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May 14, 2012

Pharmacies offer shingles vaccine, but few get the shot

Anyone who had chicken pox as a child is at risk of developing shingles, a painful skin rash that can lead to permanent nerve damage and life-long pain.

But there's hope: A shingles vaccine became available for the first time at New Hampshire pharmacies in January.

But it's not cheap: It costs about $220 per shot.

The vaccine, Zostavax, is recommended for anyone over the age of 60 and state organizations are encouraging more adults to get inoculated. The vaccine is 60 percent effective in preventing shingles, according to Marcella Bobinsky, the immunization program manager for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"That might seem low, however, it also reduces the impact that shingles has," she said. "If someone gets the vaccine, they're likely to have a less severe case. But the rate of immunization for shingles is very low."

She said nationally, only around 20 percent of adults have gotten the shot because it is still relatively new.

"It is expensive and has been limited in terms of accessibility because the manufacturer hasn't been able to keep up with demand," Bobinsky said. "It's only been out on the private market for a few months."

The number of people coming in for the vaccine is already starting to increase, according to according to Diane Sweeney, pharmacy manager at Walgreens in Derry, which offers Zostavax.

"Not all pharmacies carry vaccinations, but Walgreens was one of the first ones to jump on board," she said. "We're seeing a higher awareness of shingles. In our store this week, we've had four people come in already."

Shingles can affect anyone who has had chicken pox and is more common as people age, Sweeney said.

"The (Centers for Disease Control) says one in three Americans will develop shingles at some point in their lifetime," she said. "But if they never had chicken pox, they cannot develop shingles."

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