Health Care

Shingles vaccine shortage leaving these adults vulnerable to painful disease

When James Bowlin’s doctor recommended the new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, Bowlin wasn’t about to argue with him.

His sister had shingles before she died, and his brother-in-law had told him how miserable she was.

“He said it was just brutal,” said Bowlin, who lives in Johnson County. “That she was in excruciating pain with this.”

But Bowlin, 70, quickly found that getting Shingrix was easier said than done.

There’s a nationwide shortage of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and its manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, says it may not have enough for everybody who wants it until 2019.

Bowlin said he hasn’t been able to find it anywhere.

He tried Walmart first because that’s where he figured the price would be lowest.

“I call Walmart and asked when can I come get it, and they said, ‘We don’t have it and won’t have it until the first of the year — if you’re lucky,’” Bowlin said.

So he went back to his doctor and asked him, but he couldn’t get it either.

Spokespeople for the Johnson County Health Department and the Kansas City Health Department said neither has the vaccine in stock.

Kansas City does have some available at its in-house clinic for city employees, said spokesman Chris Hernandez. But maybe not for long.

“The vendor we use has put out an alert regarding the shortage, and the clinic has ordered some additional vaccine,” Hernandez said. “We expect it may take longer than usual to receive it.”

Walgreens spokeswoman Allison Mack said she couldn’t provide any information about whether Kansas City area locations had Shingrix in stock.

“We’re advising customers to contact their local pharmacy to verify availability of Shingrix,” Mack said.

She referred further questions to GlaxoSmithKline.

Sean Clements, a spokesman for the pharmaceutical company, said Shingrix “has been met with an unprecedented level of demand from patients and health care professionals,” but GlaxoSmithKline, or GSK, is ramping up production and patients should keep checking with their providers to see if they have it in stock.

“We understand that this is a challenging situation to manage, and GSK is fully committed to expediting Shingrix resupply throughout 2018,” Clements said. “We are shipping large volumes of Shingrix every two to three weeks and expect that schedule to continue for the remainder of the year.”

Clements said consumers can use the company’s online “Vaccine Locator” tool to find places that may have it but cautioned they should still call ahead.

“The vaccine finder is updated regularly,” Clements said. “However, the vaccine (in) some locations is depleted quicker than we can update the site.”

A CVS representative didn’t respond to a request for comment on the vaccine’s availability in the Kansas City area.

Shingles is a painful skin condition caused by the herpes zoster, or chicken pox, virus. Anyone who has had chicken pox is susceptible to it, but the vaccine is recommended for everyone 50 and over because shingles can be especially painful for older people.

Shingles can cause vision loss, and the rash is often accompanied by fever, headache, chills or upset stomach.

Bowlin said he’s already been immunized with Zostavax, a previous shingles vaccine on the market since 2006. But Shingrix, approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year, is more effective at preventing the illness and is recommended even for those who have had Zostavax.

The trick, Bowlin said, is finding it amid the shortage.

“I was stunned about this,” he said.