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ADVOCACY SPOTLIGHT: IMPROVING ACCESS TO THE SHINGLES VACCINE IN NEW YORK STATE! 
By Natacha T. Pires, MBBS

July 25, 2012

On July 18th, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed A.6301-D/S.3808-B—legislation aimed at expanding New York’s pharmacist immunizer law—enabling certified pharmacists to administer the shingles and pneumococcal vaccines (a convenience previously available only for flu shots). 

Vaccine

In an effort to ensure expanded access to preventive care, particularly for those at risk for shingles which can lead to post-herpetic neuralgia. The Neuropathy Association has partnered with the New York State Association of County Health Officials, the Chain Pharmacy Association of New York State, and the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York to support this crucial legislation with letters of support to Governor Cuomo and other New York state legislators.

Shingles occurs when the varicella zoster virus (which also causes chickenpox and can lay dormant in nerve cells for decades), reactivates to cause a painful skin rash. In some, the intense pain can persist for months and even years after the rash clears, a debilitating complication called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for developing shingles. The risk for developing PHN also increases with age—especially in people over 60—and also for those who are immune-compromised. 

According to a 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on vaccine coverage, only 10% of older adults over 65 received the shingles vaccine (compared to nearly two-thirds of those over 65 who got the flu vaccine that year). Cost is one factor that hinders wider use of the shingles vaccine: an inoculation costs approximately $200, and not all insurance plans cover it. Medicare covers it through Part D (which pharmacies can bill directly), but not Part B (which reimburses for doctors’ visits). This means that patients frequently have to pay for the vaccine and injection out-of-pocket, and then get reimbursed. Vaccine storage is another hindering factor: many physicians’ offices do not have freezers in which to safely store the vaccine.

Though all 50 states allow certified pharmacists to provide flu vaccines, New York is now one of 47 states where pharmacists can administer immunizations against pneumonia and one of 42 states where pharmacists can administer the shingles vaccine. Making the shingles vaccine more accessible will increase efforts to prevent shingles, leading to reduced rates of shingles and reining in the costs of vaccine-preventable illnesses and complications, thus improving the health and lives of New Yorkers. Reducing shingles also means preventing PHN, an extremely painful neuropathy.

Advocacy campaigns work best when community members participate to lend their voices, describe their experiences, and involve their networks of family and friends so we have the strength in numbers to be heard and to make a difference on an issue. 

Related Links:

The Link Between Neuropathy and Shingles

To learn more about the shingles vaccine, visit http://www.zostavax.com/

 

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