Don’t fall for those staged commercials about shingles

“Adults are skipping their vaccinations, too – for lots of diseases.”

And rather than that being cause for alarm, it’s actually the best headline I’ve read about vaccines in a long time.

But Big Pharma doesn’t think so.

Especially for its beloved cash cow of adult shots – the shingles vaccine.

So Merck is out to do something about that. It’s bombarding us with a series of fright night commercials to scare us into getting that shot without thinking twice.

But what’s in its shingles vaccine is far scarier than any commercial this drug maker could cook up…

The spin zone

Merck needs to sell a lot more of its shingles vaccine – and sell it quickly.

Right now, it’s the only drug company with a shingles shot on the market. But Glaxo Smith Kline is out to fix that.

The new GSK shot is only called HZ/SU for now. And the company has secured enough human guinea pigs to run more trials and then speed it through FDA “approval.”

So you can imagine how Merck is feeling, having its once exclusive shingles territory infringed upon.

Of course when that happens, there’s nothing left to do but call in the “Mad Men” to start scripting scary “real life” stories into commercials.

And what they came up with may look real, alright. But it’s about as phony as a lead nickel.

It begins: “Day #6 with Shingles, Sept. 24, 2014.” And the woman looking in her bathroom mirror is made up to have “shingles” blisters covering her forehead and eye. Her “husband” says “she’s embarrassed by the way she looks.”

Okay, stop right there. This isn’t day anything with shingles. It’s a bunch of actors in makeup reading a script. And even this ad has to say (if you catch the fine print) that shingles around the eye is “less common.”

But what really makes these commercials seem so real, is the method used to spin the campaign.

Merck’s shot, the Zostavax vaccine, isn’t mentioned once during the ad. It almost looks like some kind of PSA. And because of that, none of those side effects have to be mentioned or disclaimers given.

So here’s what this informative little story won’t be telling you.

Side effects of this Zostavax vaccine include a “shingles-like” rash (wait, isn’t that what this shot is supposed to prevent?), fever, swollen glands, muscle and joint pain, and shock.

The government’s VAERS reporting system has received hundreds of adverse reports like these for the shingles shot…including 36 deaths.

And that was as of four years ago. Who knows what the death toll could climb to now that Merck is pushing the shot so aggressively?

But Merck isn’t only counting on scaring you into rolling up your sleeve. No, they are showing the lighter side of shingles, too.

Just hop on the web site and you’ll see the kinder, gentler side of marketing the shingles vaccine.

As the pictures show seniors kayaking and practicing karate, words keep flashing at us like yoga, fish oil, energy shake and green veggies. And then those words disappear, and all we see is “shingles vaccine,” with the jingle, “Explore. Exert. As you get older, really great. But don’t forget to vaccinate.”

If you want the real story about the Merck shingles vaccine, the drug maker’s deceptive promotional material isn’t the place to go.

You won’t hear any mention of the fact the shot contains MSG. Or even worse, that the shot contains fetal cells, including the DNA and protein from an aborted baby.

That wouldn’t make a very good ad pitch, now would it?

I asked Dr. Spreen the best way to protect yourself without this horrible shot. He said that vitamin B-12 supplementation of 500 mcg a day can guard your nervous system and reduce your risk. And to treat a shingles outbreak, you can get a B-12 shot.

And since B-12 doesn’t really rhyme with anything, I don’t have a catchy jingle for you. Just a way to reduce your risk of shingles without taking a shot in the arm of MSG or fetal cells.


“Adults are skipping their vaccinations, too – for lots of diseases” Lenny Bernstein, February 5, 2015, The Washington Post,