A couple of years ago, a friend of mine contracted shingles. The intense, lasting pain she described sounded horrific.
So earlier this year, when my doctor recommended that I get the two-dose Shingrix vaccine to help protect me against the disease, I quickly rolled up my sleeve.
Two months later it was time for my second shot. But I discovered that my doctor’s office was out of the vaccine. And, it wasn’t clear when more would be shipped.
I wasn’t alone. There’s a nationwide shortage of the vaccine, thanks to higher-than-anticipated demand.
“It takes six months or so to produce the vaccine, so they can’t just scale it up and have it ready the next week,” says Catherine Troisi, an associate professor of epidemiology at the UT Health School of Public Health in Houston and a member of the American Public Health Association.
She says it may take another six to 12 months for supply to catch up with demand.
1. Give it some time
Troisi has a few recommendations for people who want the vaccine.
First, if you’re in your 50s, and you haven’t started the two-dose series, consider waiting. Troisi cites a couple of reasons.
“One, to be altruistic,” she says. “Let older people get it, because the chances that you’ll get [shingles] increase as you age.”
There’s also a more self-serving reason to postpone it.
“If you get it earlier on, the protection may end sooner,” she says.
So, you might choose to wait until you’re 60 or older before getting vaccinated. You can talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of waiting.
2. Keep up the search
It’s a Shingrix shortage—not an outage. The vaccine is getting shipped, but supplies are limited. You can try vaccinefinder.org to find places in your area that have it.
That search didn’t work for me, though. In the Allentown, Penn. area, it only brought up places that have Zostavax—an older shingles vaccine.
You can also add your name to the waiting list for Shingrix at your doctor’s office or pharmacy. And it doesn’t hurt to call occasionally to ask where you are on the list, or when they expect to get more vaccines. “Checking in might get you to the top,” Troisi says.
If, like me, you’ve had the first dose but can’t find the second, you also might get priority treatment.
Troisi says that some pharmacies are giving preference to people who are getting their second dose.
“Some require that you got your first dose there, and others will give it if you have proof that you had the first dose,” she says.
It’s recommended that you get the second dose two to six months after the first. But even if you miss that window, you should still get your second dose as soon as possible. You don’t have to start the series over, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
3. Try the older vaccine
There’s no shortage of Zostavax, the older vaccine that helps protect against shingles. Shingrix is preferred—it’s more than 90% effective at preventing both shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia, a painful complication that can stem from shingles.
But Zostavax may still be an option. A large study found that Zostavax reduced the risk of shingles by 51% and the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia by 67%.
And you can get Zostavax now, and still get the Shingrix vaccine later, as long as you wait at least eight weeks after getting Zostavax before getting Shingrix.
4. Skip it?
While most people are clamoring for the vaccine, Troisi points out that some are hesitant because of side effects like a sore arm or a low-grade fever.
“That’s not pleasant, but that’s a good thing,” she says. “It shows that your immune system is reacting to [the vaccine] and ramping up.”
Later, if your immune system encounters the shingles virus, it will know what to do.