In the midst of a needless government shutdown that has forced the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to shutdown, with the exception of essential staff, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer revealed today that Long Island is experiencing an alarming shortage of the Shingles vaccine, that left unsolved, could result in many people getting Shingles or spreading the chickenpox virus to others this winter.
“To think that in the midst of a shingle shot vaccine shortage across Long Island, that the FDA is shutdown, is a worrisome thought and a problem that must be addressed,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “The shingle shot shortage across the Island is a two-pronged worry because not only does a shortage mean more people might suffer the painful and harmful shingles virus itself, but it means that young people, particularly babies and children, even those with compromised immune systems who have never had chickenpox themselves, are at a greater risk to communicate the bug. That’s why I am urging the FDA to go above and beyond, to do whatever it can, amidst this needless shutdown and pull out all the stops to step in and help remedy this shortage before it becomes a full-on crisis. And it is why I am, once again, urging the President to see the light here and stop holding agencies that have nothing to do with the debate at hand hostage.”
Schumer, today, publicly pushed emergency FDA staff still working amidst the shutdown to:
1) Consider this shortage an emergency.
2) Step in more directly and work as a go-between between the manufacturer and others to ensure locals know when new shipments will arrive, and how to best publicize the news.
3) Expedite any and all regulatory hurdles that might prevent shipments of the already-approved vaccine from making its way to the U.S. as fast as possible.
4) Prioritize shingles vaccine shipments to New York and other states with higher populations because the risk of spreading the communicable chickenpox virus which emerges through the shingles virus is highest among populated states, including New York.
Schumer said that this Shingle shot shortage, being experienced by local and big-name pharmacies across the Island, warrants some of the FDA’s essential agency staff to step in and help remedy the problem with the manufacturer, and most importantly, improve communication with locals who are currently in the dark in terms of when new shipments of the vaccine will arrive locally. The Senator was joined by the Long Island Pharmacy Society, doctors and Long Island residents currently waiting for their Shingles vaccine as he made the case for action. He said this shingle vaccine shortage is a perfect example of why the President should end the shutdown and open the other agencies of the federal government that have nothing to do with paying for a wall.
The Senator and local officials and residents further detailed the impacts of the shortage and the risks as they made the case for the FDA to go above and beyond in helping to rectify the situation.
The vaccine, Shingrix, approved last year to prevent shingles, has been in high demand since GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the manufacturer of the vaccine, came out with its shingles vaccine that is 90 percent effective, while others were much less effective, as low as 40 percent. There is a shortage of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) shingles vaccine because not enough was produced to meet the high demand for the uniquely effective vaccine.
Many people, especially older adults, do not understand the seriousness of shingles and the complications that could arise with the disease, especially in the spread of the communicable chickenpox virus. The shingles vaccine, which reduces the chances of an older adult getting shingles, and reduces the severity of complications and spread of chickenpox, is recommended for most people over 50. However, people are finding it extremely difficult to get across Long Island and even in New York City.
“The Long Island Pharmacist Society applauds Senator Schumer for sounding the alarm on the shortage of Shingrix on Long Island,” said Nidhin Mohan an independent pharmacist representing LIPS. “As pharmacists serving one of the most populous areas in the country we are very concerned with the wellbeing of our patients without access to this drug which provides our patients with protections against shingles and the Post Herpatic Neuralgia associated with it.”
“The shingles vaccine greatly reduces the chance of getting shingles,” said Dr. Sunil Sood, Chief of Pediatric Medicine at Southside Hospital. “Not only is it important for older folks to get it for their own health, but also to decrease the chance of spreading it to young children who they may be around. Many young children are susceptible to chickenpox – chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus.”
Schumer explained that the lack of communication between pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and the manufacturer of the vaccine, GSK, could be better, which leaves patients, doctors, and pharmacies alike in the dark about when the next shipment of Shingrix will arrive. Reports indicate that the wait time for the vaccine may depend on where you live and other factors such as large pharmacy chains’ ability to move supply around. But even on populated Long Island, finding the vaccine proves far more difficult than it should.
Shingles is an extremely painful and debilitating rash that can lead to even more severe complications. The virus (also called herpes zoster) occurs when the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) – the same virus that causes chickenpox – is reactivated in the body. The varicella-zoster virus remains in the body for life and older people are more susceptible to shingles because their immunity to the virus declines at the cellular level. Aside from the painful rash, shingles can produce typical virus symptoms including chills, fever, upset stomach or headache.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that there is a shortage of GSK’s Shingrix vaccine due to high levels of demand. As a result of this shortage, GSK has implemented order limits and providers have experienced shipping delays. The CDC has reported that order limits and shipping delays are likely to continue throughout 2019. Schumer explained that this uncertainty regarding the timing of shipments is extremely concerning to the adults at risk of contracting the virus and spreading the communicable VZV chickenpox virus to those who have never had the ailment or have a compromised immune system.
While GSK plans to make even more doses available in the US in 2019, the communication between all entities needs to be improved immediately, Schumer argues. The CDC has issued a message to protect older adults from shingles by providing “did-you-know?” facts regarding the disease.
These facts include:
• There are about a million new cases of shingles each year in the United States.
• Anyone who has had chicken pox can get shingles. That means 95 percent of adults are at risk.
• While you cannot spread shingles, one can spread the chickenpox virus at the same time.
• Approximately one-third of the U.S. population will get shingles. The risk rises after 50 years of age. Half of people living to age 85 have had or will get shingles.
• Among those who get shingles, more than one-third will develop serious complications. The risk of complications rises after 60 years of age.