There is a nationwide shortage of Shingrix, the new shingles vaccine recommended for adults 50 and older, and Hawaii is no exception.
Manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, Shingrix was approved by the Food and Drug Administration late last year. Since the distribution of the vaccine early this year, it has been coveted by adults who fear developing the painful disease. There are roughly 1 million cases of shingles in the U.S. each year, and the risk of getting it increases with age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Shingrix is 97 percent effective at preventing shingles in adults 50-69, and 91 percent effective in adults over 70. The old shingles vaccine Zostavax is only recommended for adults 60 and older and is less effective.
“There is a shortage in the islands,” said Dr. Kathleen Kozak, an internal medicine physician at Straub Medical Center. “We get weekly updates from the pharmacies about who has it and who doesn’t. There’s been a lot of information in the media that has gotten patients to come into the office and request it.”
The state Department of Health has a link dedicated to shingles that includes a shingles vaccine locator that shows all of the pharmacies in Hawaii that provide it. The department does not participate in administering the vaccine.
“We here at the department don’t provide that particular vaccine because it’s an adult vaccine,” said Ronald Balajadia, chief of the department’s Immunization Branch. “Most of our programs are for children and adolescents. So, I’m not too familiar on the exact shortage.”
On Thursday, Civil Beat called 12 Oahu pharmacies listed on the locator to inquire about the availability of Shingrix. Only two, Safeway on Kapahulu Avenue and Longs Drugs in Waikiki, indicated they had it in stock. But the Safeway store anticipated it would run out this week.
On Friday, Civil Beat paid a visit to four additional pharmacies in Honolulu.
A technician at the Walgreens in the Market City shopping center, Marnelli Duldulao, said the pharmacy did not have Shingrix in stock and has 59 people on a waiting list.
Lynn Tran, a pharmacist at Times Supermarket on Beretania Street, said the situation was the same at that store, with a waiting list of two to three dozen patients. She said that the pharmacy is trying to prioritize patients who have already received the first of the two-shot vaccination.
Rae Takahashi, a technician at Safeway on Beretania, said her pharmacy’s approach is similar to the nearby Times Supermarket. Patients must receive a booster shot two to six months after receiving the first shot in order for the vaccine to be effective.
Takahashi said her pharmacy is also out of the vaccine and has been for a couple weeks. She estimates about 20 people are on a waiting list and that the business gets 15-20 inquiries about the vaccine per day.
Longs Drugs inside the Ala Moana Target store was the only location of the four visited that had Shingrix in stock. Pharmacy manager John Hung said the location isn’t as well-known as other Longs, which is why it still has the vaccine. He said the other Longs at Ala Moana also has the vaccine.
Becky Dant, Costco’s director of professional services, said that at one of the Costco pharmacies in Hawaii there is a waiting list of approximately 300 people who want Shingrix. She did not identify which location. Dant said she is unsure when the stock will be replenished, and that she has been told the shortage will continue throughout the rest of the year and possibly into early 2019.
The consensus between Kozak and the pharmacy workers Civil Beat spoke with was that shipments of Shingrix come in sporadically, and no one knows for certain when the vaccines will arrive.
“GSK has increased the US supply available for 2018 and plans to release doses to all customer types on a consistent and predictable schedule for the rest of 2018,” said the CDC on its Current Vaccine Shortages & Delays web page. “Overall, the supply of Shingrix during 2018 is sufficient to support the vaccination of more patients during 2018 than were vaccinated against shingles during 2017.”
Kozak advised people not to worry if they can’t immediately get the vaccine.
“The idea is, people, don’t freak out,” said Kozak. “It’ll come back. We’ll get more of the shot. If you get shingles, you can still be treated for it. Get seen immediately, there is medicine to treat it.”
Kozak said early symptoms of shingles to look out for include a red blistery rash on one side of the body that hurts or stings.
The CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 and older get the two-shot vaccine, along with adults of any age who have had shingles in the past, received the old vaccine Zostavax more than 8 weeks ago, or who may have had chicken pox.
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