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Shingles vaccination at 60?

September 16, 2013
by Kathleen Mears
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Shingles (herpes zoster) is an inflammation of the nerve endings caused by the zoster virus. Anyone who has had chicken pox has the zoster virus lying dormant. This painful, contagious rash occurs more frequently in people over 50.

Several years ago at a nursing home where I used to live, the daughter of female resident came to see me after her mother was diagnosed with shingles. The daughter was upset because she felt the nursing home could have done something to prevent it.

I tried to reassure her that the facility could not have done anything to prevent her mother's shingles. But the daughter insisted that living in a facility so close to other residents may have weakened her mother’s immune system. I’m not sure if there was vaccination for shingles then but even if there was, Medicare and Medicaid may not have paid for it.

Although I have never had shingles, my mother did when she was in her 50s. Her only treatment was hydrocortisone cream. Hers was a mild case and it cleared up after a few weeks. When my godmother got them in her 60s and our next-door neighbor in his 70s, their outbreaks were much worse.

A few years ago when my sister turned 60, she got the shingles vaccination. It was so important to her that if insurance would not pay, she would pay out of pocket. When my friend Beth turned 62, a year after my sister, she and her husband—both medical professionals—decided to get the immunization. She laughed about their trek across a couple of counties to get their shots. She also said the shot only lowered their risk of shingles by 50 percent.

I’ve read that each year 1 million people get shingles and half of them are over the age of 50. Today, shingles can be treated with antiviral and pain medications. But when people over 60 get shingles, they have a harder time getting over them. Afterwards, they can have residual nerve pain.

Clinical trials on the shingles inoculation show that those who were inoculated and still got shingles had minor cases. The inoculation also provides a 67 percent chance that those who do get shingles will not have residual nerve pain afterwards.

Beth told me that Medicare does not pay for the shingles vaccination. But I have seen some information online that says Medicare might pay. Either way, I am going to get vaccinated. If Medicare will not pay, a major drugstore chain charges $219.99 for the shot.


Kathleen Mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...