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Getting Shingles Vaccine Easier

Getting Shingles Vaccine Easier [The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio]

From Columbus Dispatch (OH) (February 8, 2010)

Feb. 8--In theory, people should have scrambled to get the shingles vaccine. The disease is notoriously painful and quite common, especially in those 80 or older.

But long after Zostavax was approved in 2006 for people 60 or older, vaccination rates remained low.

For a time, the vaccine was in short supply, so even those who heard about it and wanted it couldn't get a shot. But even after supplies improved, obstacles remained.

The Medicare prescription-drug plan pays for the vaccine, which means you could get it for the cost of a co-pay at a pharmacy, but pharmacists initially weren't allowed to give the shots.

Doctors could, but going to the doctor meant an initial out-of-pocket cost of $200 or more, because the Medicare plan that pays for office visits didn't cover the vaccine.

Some senior citizens and pharmacists got creative. Several Kroger pharmacists sold shots at the pharmacy and then followed senior citizens who bought them to their doctors' offices with vaccine in a cooler, said Doug Cornelius, pharmacy sales manager for Kroger's Columbus division.

Those days are over. Pharmacists can now give the shots with a doctor's prescription, streamlining things for those who just want an easy, affordable way to protect themselves against shingles.

"It's exciting, it's really exciting," said Angie Guinn, pharmacy manager at a Rite-Aid store in Lima, where the vaccine has been popular. "There was a disconnect in access for the patient."

Shingles can be a devastating disease, Guinn said. Those with residual nerve pain can spend a lot on medications.

The vaccine has been shown to reduce the likelihood of contracting shingles by 50 percent. In those who were vaccinated but still became ill, the vaccine can reduce the length and severity of the illness, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Possible side effects include pain and swelling at the injection site and headaches.

About one in 10 eligible people has been vaccinated nationwide, said Jesse McCullough, Rite-Aid's manager of field clinical services for the six-state area that includes Ohio.

"There's a tremendous need for it in the community," he said.

Several pharmacies are offering the shots. Kroger, which piloted the shingles effort at 22 stores, will begin offering Zostavax at 114 Ohio stores this week.

Cornelius said that although it's not required, it's a good idea to call the pharmacy in advance so the store can bill for the vaccine ahead of time and let the patient know what to expect in out-of-pocket costs.

The boards that oversee Ohio pharmacists and doctors had to agree to allow pharmacists to administer the shingles vaccine. Pharmacists already had permission to give certain vaccines, including flu shots, but each new vaccination they provide requires a change in Ohio's rules.

"It was a mess everybody was complaining about the process, so the decision was we would add that vaccine," said William Winsley, executive director of the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy.

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Posted: February 2010