Panel Recommends Shingles Vaccine
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a CDC advisory panel, on Wednesday voted unanimously to recommend Merck's shingles vaccine Zostavax for adults ages 60 and older, USA Today reports (Manning, USA Today, 10/26). Shingles is characterized by a painful, blistering skin rash and is most common in individuals older than age 60 (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/26).
The condition is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. About 25% of people who had chickenpox will develop shingles (Young, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/25). Complications associated with the virus include scarring and loss of vision.
FDA approved the vaccine in May after a study found that individuals who received the shot developed shingles at half the rate of those who received a placebo (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/26).
While the panel's recommendation "represents a boon" for Merck, the only company selling a shingles vaccine, analysts say the product "won't necessarily be a blockbuster," the Wall Street Journal reports.
Barbara Ryan, a pharmaceutical analyst at Deutsche Bank, said, "With seniors, there are questions about whether to go to the doctor, whether they want the vaccine. There are a lot of reasons not everyone chooses to get vaccinated" (Johnson, Wall Street Journal, 10/26).
The vaccine costs about $160 per shot, and people might be more likely to get the shot if their out-of-pocket costs are lower, according to internist Sandra Fryhofer (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/26).
Some plans, including Aetna, have covered the vaccine since it was approved by FDA. Others insurers, including Cigna and WellPoint, are revising their plans to cover the vaccine.
Merck estimates that prior to the panel's recommendation, about 43% of patients were reimbursed for the vaccine by their providers (Wall Street Journal, 10/26).
Jeffrey Silber, Merck's director of vaccine research, said, "We know that the insurance carriers take ACIP recommendations very seriously" when deciding what vaccines to cover (USA Today, 10/26).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on the recommendations.
The segment includes comments from Rafael Harpaz, medical officer for the National Immunization Program at CDC, and William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University (Neighmond, "Morning Edition," NPR, 10/26).
Audio of the segment is available online.