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Report: Shingles Vaccine Reduces Infection and Postherpetic Neuralgia, But U.S. Uptake Is Low

Only 4% of Medicare beneficiaries are vaccinated (Apr. 9)

Even though a shingles vaccine may reduce by half the occurrence of this painful skin and nerve infection in older people (aged 65 years and older) and may reduce the rate of postherpetic neuralgia (a painful complication of shingles), uptake of the vaccine in older U.S. adults is low, according to a new study by U.S. and U.K. researchers published in PLOS Medicine.

The investigators reached their conclusions after reviewing the records of 766,330 Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years or older between 2007 and 2009.

They found that the uptake of shingles vaccine was low — only 3.9% of participants were vaccinated — but was particularly low among blacks (0.3%) and people with low incomes (0.6%).

Over the study period, almost 13,000 participants developed shingles. In this population, the vaccine reduced the rate of infection by 48% (i.e., approximately half as many vaccinated individuals developed shingles as those who were not vaccinated). The authors also found that the vaccine’s efficacy rate against postherpetic neuralgia was 59%.

“These findings provide useful information for policy makers in countries that are currently considering the introduction of shingles vaccination into routine practice,” the authors said. “Moreover, they highlight the need to increase shingles vaccination among elderly individuals in the U.S., the section of the population at the highest risk of postherpetic neuralgia.”

Source: PLOS Medicine; April 9, 2013.

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