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Finding a place to get your first shot of the shingles vaccine is becoming increasingly difficult. There is a nationwide shortage for the vaccine, with the demand far exceeding the supply.

Shingles is a painful rash caused by the same virus as the chicken pox that usually develops on one side of the body, often the face or torso. It can last up to four weeks and cause pain and burning sensations. 

The new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, was approved by the FDA in 2017. It’s a two-step process: the first shot, then a second shot two to six months later. It’s recommended for adults over age 50 and is about 90 percent effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost one out of every three people in the United States will develop shingles at some point.

Cancer patients are at a greater risk for shingles, especially for elderly and immunosuppressed patients undergoing a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy, steroid therapy or immuno-modulatory therapy. These patients’ immune system cannot respond as it would in a healthy individual.

If you are a cancer patient, you should consult with your doctor to see if you should get the vaccine. Shingrix can be given to immunosuppressed individuals, but it is not recommended by the CDC at this time. The CDC will begin reviewing evidence for Shingrix in immunocompromised people as soon as it becomes more widely available and will modify its recommendation if necessary. Someone taking low-dose immunosuppressive medication, anticipating immunosuppression or has recovered from an immunosuppressing illness can get the vaccine.

Here are some precautions you should take if you contract shingles:

  • Seek medical attention as needed
  • Keep lesions covered if possible
  • Avoid contact with others who have not had the chicken pox
  • Practice good hand hygiene, especially after contact with lesions
  • If the disease is widespread, avoid public areas and/or wear a mask to reduce risk of airborne disease spread

There are an estimated one million cases of shingles each year in the United States. Though there has been some difficulty obtaining Shingrix, there is no significant increase in the number of cases.