Driving through Santa Cruz and throughout the country, one sees more and more signs for shingles vaccinations advertised in front of pharmacies. If you are anything like me, your eyes will see the signs, but your mind sees a long needle.
After two of my friends came down with shingles and told me in detail the pain they went through, the vaccination won out.
As a Costco member (and a huge fan of Costco and its employees) I decided to get my shot there, in the Enfield store.
Rob Trimani, the pharmacy manager, has given hundreds of shingle vaccinations over the last two years he has offered it. A sensitive man, Rob promised it wouldn't hurt.
I was warned that I needed to set aside 40 minutes as the vaccine is frozen and needs to be thawed out - thank God. It is a live virus. By the way, anyone can use the Costco Pharmacy. You don't have to be a member. They have the best prices for most medication.
But it did, especially when I had to shell out $191 as my health insurer - United Health - refused to cover the vaccination. The only way they said they would pay for some of the cost is if I had gotten it at my doctor's office, even thought it would have been more expensive if he had to special order it.
The actual shot - could not feel it. Didn't even know when I got it because being a huge wimp I refused to look. I can't even watch someone on TV getting a shot or having blood drawn.
Instead of going into a muscle, the vaccination goes into a fatty area - Rob - a regular Henry Kissinger - told me I had very little fat in my right arm to work with. Looking to the left he could have found a lot more.
There was no reaction at the shot site and I was good to go.
So now let me tell you why you should get a shingle vaccination - especially if you hit 60 and had chicken pox.
Not only is shingles incredibly painful, it can last for months and for years and once you get it, shingles can come back. My friends, one in his 50s and the other in his high 80s, attest to it.
And considering that one out of three people will get shingles and for one out of five it will never go away, one shot is a wise decision
"Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso," says the Mayo clinic.
"Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you've had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles."
"While it isn't a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful. Vaccines can help reduce the risk of shingles, while early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications."
"Pain is usually the first symptom of shingles. For some, it can be intense. Depending on the location of the pain, it can sometimes be mistaken for a symptom of problems affecting the heart, lungs or kidneys. Some people experience shingles pain without ever developing the rash," says the Mayo Clinic.
"Most commonly, the shingles rash develops as a stripe of blisters. Sometimes the shingles rash occurs around one eye or on one side of the neck or face."
If the rash or pain occurs near an eye it can lead to permanent eye damage.
Shingle vaccine will not guarantee that you won't get shingles, but it greatly reduces your chances, especially in the 60 to 69 age group. It also reduces the severity if you do get shingles.
"In a clinical trial involving more than 38,000 adults 60 years of age or older, the vaccine reduced the overall incidence of shingles by 51% and the incidence of PHN by 67%. The efficacy of the vaccine in preventing shingles was higher in the younger age group (60-69 years; vaccine efficacy was 64%) than in the older age group (older than 70 years; vaccine efficacy was 38%)," says the CDC.
Studies are ongoing to assess the duration of protection from one dose of zoster vaccine and the need, if any, for booster doses.
There are no comprehensive data on the effectiveness of zoster vaccine in treating shingles once it occurs, and the vaccine is not licensed for this indication.
Rob suggested I appeal United Health's refusal to pay for the vaccination. You may want to be better prepared and have your doctor contact your carrier and apply pressure for coverage.
Also check around, the price for one shot - that is all you need - can be higher than $800.
And if you think you have it, see your doctor immediately. This is what Sarah experienced:
"About five years ago, I woke up one morning with a headache that wouldn't quit. It was centered behind my left eye. Nothing would alleviate it.
"The next day, the headache was gone, but I looked as though a huge insect had bitten me on my eyelid. The swelling on my eye increased, and after about a day and a half, I noticed that my forehead and scalp were sensitive to the touch.
"I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with early stages of shingles. I started taking Valtrex immediately and within three days, there was a noticeable improvement. Medication must be started early to be effective and I recommend that everyone become familiar with the first symptoms and get to a doctor if you experience them. I'm convinced that I still have vision in both eyes because of early treatment."
Another woman, who lives in Eastern Connecticut had this story:
"I observed a sister who had shingles during the summer of 2010 and immediately went to CVS, got the vaccine and took it to my doctor who gave me the shot. CVS was the only drugstore in my area which carried it because it has to be kept in the freezer.
"Last October I woke up during the night in terrible pain. I had the shingles! I had it from my spine all around my side and the front. It was without a doubt the worse pain I have ever had. There is no pain medication that helps because it is nerve pain which is difficult to treat. The rash and blisters lasted until December and finally went away. The pain however lasts and is still with me. Some sites on the Web say that as many as 50 % of the people who get vaccinated still get shingles. In spite of this, I encourage everyone I know to get vaccinated."
While a shingle vaccine does not prevent shingles for everyone, it will reduce its affect if you do get it.
And if you do get shingles, see your doctor immediately. You can get medication that will reduce its affect and the length of time you have it.