Horses out, door closed
It was the most painful thing I can remember. I had no idea what it was but it felt like someone was poking needles from the inside of my body out. I couldn’t even get dressed.
When my doctor said it was shingles, I was shocked. I wasn’t even 22 years old!
But if you’ve had chicken pox, you are a prime candidate for shingles — at any age. And if you have a period of extreme stress, you are likely to get an outbreak. And what is more stressful at 22 than a week of final exams in college?
I can tell you that I would do anything to avoid being in that kind of pain again. So now, many years later, the question comes up. Should I get the shingles vaccine?
Let’s get this part out of the way first. The answer is, “NO.”
I mean…Why get a vaccine for a virus you’ve already had? That seems like the classic shutting of the barn door after the horses are out.
Well, don’t be surprised if your doctor tries to sell you on this shot — even if you’ve had shingles before. He might also tell you that the CDC recommends it.
But here’s what he won’t tell you. Your risk is ridiculously low. The shot doesn’t offer much protection. And there’s an even better way to protect yourself.
Looking for clues
A new shingles vaccine study turns out to be more revealing than the researchers probably intended.
We’ll start at the end. Their conclusion is laughable. They found that patients over the age of 60 who have just recovered from shingles will probably not benefit from an immediate vaccination.
I’m not sure why they’re talking about “immediate” need. This follow up study lasted two full years. No immediacy there. And in those two years, they found very few recurrent cases of shingles, even in subjects who weren’t vaccinated.
In vaccinated subjects who had already had shingles, the recurrence rate was just 19 cases per 10,000. And for the unvaccinated, that rate soared all the way up to…24 cases per 10,000.
That’s a solid clue that if you’ve had shingles, your recurrence risk is very low. Nevertheless, the CDC says that everyone over 60 should get the shot, even if they’ve already had shingles.
As always, you can count on the CDC to be aggressive when it comes to selling a vaccine. The shingles vaccine costs $200, so that CDC recommendation is potentially worth millions to Merck, the maker of the vaccine.
But what if you’ve never had shingles? How effective is the vaccine then?
According to a UCLA analysis, only one case of shingles is avoided for every 175 people who receive the vaccine. That’s another clue that the need for vaccination is not exactly pressing.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take one simple precaution to avoid a shingles outbreak.
As Dr. Spreen has pointed out before, the shingles virus attacks the nerves. But you can easily protect your nerves with vitamin B-12. Dr. Spreen says that a daily B-12 dose of 500 mcg offers sufficient protection.
Unlike the vaccine, however, B-12 also helps protect your bones and your brain. So even if you’ve already had shingles, consider adding a daily B-12.
“Herpes Zoster Vaccine and the Incidence of Recurrent Herpes Zoster in an Immunocompetent Elderly Population” Journal of Infectious Diseases, Published online ahead of print, 6/4/12, jid.oxfordjournals.org
“Zoster Vaccine Shows No Benefit After a Shingles Episode” Yael Waknine, Medscape, 6/7/12, medscape.com