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Shingles, Vaccines and Picnics

Some of us are old enough to remember having preventable diseases. I recall measles, mumps, chicken pox and rubella (aka German measles). Each left a distinct memory.

Measles were the worst. I remember hallucinating from the high fever I had. My mother got them and we had to endure my father’s burnt toast and overcooked eggs for a few nights. I wasn’t very sick with German measles, but in the days before reliable contraception, we couldn’t leave the house, lest we infect any pregnant women.

Chicken pox were hideous, and I still have a couple of scars from them. I got mumps the last week of second grade. We had a school picnic and a field trip, so I didn’t tell anyone I was sick. However, my swollen neck betrayed me. I tried to suck in my cheeks and challenge the school nurse’s diagnosis, but she wasn’t having any of it. I was sent home.

These memories play a significant part in my decision to be vaccinated against any preventable disease. I don’t want to miss another picnic or take an unnecessary sick day again. I lived with hepatitis C for 25 years, a disease for which there is no vaccine. Life is short. So when I hear ‘vaccine,’ I’m all in.

On Tuesday, I was vaccinated against shingles. Shingrix is the newest version of this vaccine. I had the older version (Zostavax), a far less effective vaccine. Overall, Zostavax works about half of the time, dropping to about 18 percent in people over 80. I could see my 80-year-old self with shingles missing more than just the school picnic, so I got the Shingrix.  

If you’ve ever known anyone with shingles, you know how painful it is. We are talking pain that can last for months or even years. Approximately 1 in 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime. That’s about a million cases a year in this country. Since risk of shingles increases with age, I thought it prudent to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

There is a Shingrix shortage, so it took a bit of patience and diligence to get the vaccine. Yes, I did get some side effects. My arm hurt a bit and is red. I felt tired and achy the day after. This is a normal immune response and tells me my immune system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. It is NOT because of anything wrong.

The only side effect that I didn’t like was the cost. I paid $165, and since this is a 2-dose vaccine, presumably the second co-pay will be similar. The woman next to me paid only $20 for her vaccine. In other words, the cost depends on your insurance plan. I received the vaccine through my local pharmacy.

Here’s to life without shingles!

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