It is no secret that health risks and complications increase with age, which is why it is important to be informed about and take advantage of modern preventative measures. Since 2006, the Zostavax vaccine has been recommended by healthcare providers for the prevention of shingles in adults aged 60 years and older.
Shingles, also called zoster or herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus –the same virus that causes chickenpox. Basically, if you’ve had the chickenpox, you are at risk for acquiring this painful skin rash. The most common complication of shingles is expressed as a severe pain – sometimes debilitating – in the location where the shingles rash occurred.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as people get older, the risk of long-term pain associated with shingles increases and the pain is likely to be more severe. Statistically, according to the same source, approximately one out of every three adults aged 60 years or older will get shingles.
In order to prevent this and other severe potential complications involving the eye, or rarely, leading to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness or encephalitis, the FDA licensed the Zostavax vaccine for preventative measures in older adults.
Zostavax is a live attuned virus vaccine indicated for the prevention of shingles in people 50 years of age and older. The vaccine consists of a one-time injection that reduced the risk of shingles by about half in a clinical trial of adults 60 years or older.
The vaccine has also proven to reduce the chance of long-term pain even if a vaccinated person does contract shingles. No prescription is needed for ages 60 years an older; however, one is required for individuals aged 50 to 59 years.
Medicare Part D is required to offer the vaccine and most private insurance companies cover the Zostavax as well. Check with your provider, but most offer full or partial coverage of the vaccine for adults 60 years and older; a few even begin at age 50.