Pharmacies scrambling to keep popular shingles vaccine on shelves

Updated: Mar. 28, 2019 at 3:34 PM EDT
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SOUTHPORT, NC (WECT) - It’s a vaccine that hit pharmacy shelves last year, and since then, keeping it in stock has been tough.

Shingrix, a vaccine approved last year by the FDA to prevent shingles, is so popular that its producer — GlaxoSmithKline — can’t make it fast enough to keep up with demand.

“We currently have 400 patients on a waiting list for it," said Kevin Sands, pharmacist and co-owner of Galloway-Sands Pharmacy in Southport. "This has been going on now for a year. Glaxo had a national campaign for this, and since then, we have been bombarded by scripts.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), shingles is a rash that can be painful, itchy and debilitating, and can cause nerve damage that lasts for years.

Most people over the age of 50 are likely to develop the rash, which is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the body, and scientists aren’t sure why the virus reactivates years later.

“The reason this vaccine is so popular is because of its effectiveness,” said Sands. “It’s 97 percent effective versus the old vaccine called Zostavax that was only 50 to 60 percent effective.”

Sands says many of his customers have been waiting nearly a year to get their vaccination.

“Our waiting list is on a first come, first serve basis," he said. "When we get it in, we give them a week to come get it, then move to the next person in line.”

Sands says Shingrix is administered in two doses two to six months apart, so having to get a second dose exacerbates the shortage. Sands’ pharmacy tries to put the most high-risk patients at the top of the waiting list.

“When we first started getting the vaccine, they would send us about 50 at a time," Sands said. "Now, we are getting about 10 at a time.”

GlaxoSmithKline sent a letter to Sands’ pharmacy dated March 25, which states:

“For 2019 we plan to bring more doses of Shingrix to the US compared to 2018. Based on the ongoing, unprecedented uptake of Shingrix and our allocation monitoring, we have identified a need to improve our back order process.”

The letter goes on to state back orders should be filled by Friday but only 10 doses will be delivered to pharmacies at a time due to the such high demand.

According to the letter, the next supply of the vaccination will be delivered the week of April 8.

“This company is just overwhelmed with the demand, and there are a lot of aggravated people that brought in a script a year ago," Sands said. "We understand their frustration, and we are working as fast as we can.”

Sands noted that in his 15-year career as a pharmacist, he has never seen demand for any drug or vaccination like Shingrix.

Insurance plans typically cover Shingrix. The cost per shot, according to the CDC list, puts the price of each Shingrix dose in the private sector at $140. The CDC recommends using the vaccine finder or calling local pharmacies to see which stores have it in stock.

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