GSK and the International Federation on Aging are working to confront risks and misconceptions about the disease.
A recent global survey of adults 50 and older revealed that just 7% believe they are at high risk of developing shingles, despite the fact that most of them are already infected with the varicella zoster virus (VZV) that causes the painful condition. In the United States, virtually all adults over the age of 50 carry VZV, which caused a childhood case of chickenpox, then went dormant in the nervous system. In 1 of 3 of these adults, the virus will reactivate as shingles at some point in their lives.
To raise awareness of the serious nature of shingles, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the International Federation on Ageing (IFA) have collaborated to launch the inaugural Shingles Awareness Week (February 28-March 6, 2022). This year’s theme, “Shingles is Here,” underscores that VZV is most likely already inside individuals age 50 and older.1
“Shingles can occur at any time in adulthood, so it is important to understand the risk factors and how shingles can significantly impact the quality of someone’s life,” explained Sabine Luik, Chief Medical Officer, and SVP, Global Medical Regulatory & Quality at GSK. “The more people are aware of the links between chickenpox and shingles, the sooner people can take action and discuss their concerns with their healthcare provider.”
Shingles is most commonly associated with a blistering red rash that usually erupts across one side of the chest, abdomen, or face. The burning pain that accompanies it can be debilitating. Once the rash dries up and heals over, up to 20% of patients develop a complication known as postherpetic neuralgia, or neuropathic pain that can persist for months or years. Other complications are also possible.
In addition to age, other risk factors for developing shingles include gender, race, and general overall health. Immunocompromised individuals are particularly susceptible to developing shingles, as are diabetics and cancer patients.
“By kickstarting the first-ever Shingles Awareness Week, our aim is to provide evidence-based information to empower individuals to understand their risk and talk to their healthcare professional if they have questions and concerns. We need to ensure we do our part to educate the global community on this preventable, painful condition,” said Roger Connor, President of Vaccines and Global Health, GSK.
The first line of defense against shingles is vaccination. The only shingles vaccine available in the U.S. is Shingrix, approved by the FDA and CDC in 2017. It is included on the current vaccination schedule for adults issued by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
Currently recommended for immunocompetent adults age 50 and over, Shingrix is delivered in 2 doses administered 2 to 6 months apart. GSK, which manufactures the vaccine, states that dosing can be changed to 1 to 2 months for immunocompromised adults who would benefit from a shorter vaccination schedule.
In late 2021, the FDA approved and the ACIP recommended Shingrix for use in immunocompromised individuals 18 and older. The ACIP recommendation is awaiting review and approval by the director of the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.