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Vaccine helps ward off shingles.

Dear Dr. SerVaas,

I understand that seniors who had chickenpox as children have a one in two chance of developing shingles in their 80s. When I asked about getting the immunizing injection, the response was: "It will probably give you shingles." That was the end of the discussion. What are your comments on this?

George Barnard

Littlestown, Pennsylvania

We sent your letter to Dr. William Schaffner, a vaccine and infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Dr. Schaffner, who is professor and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine, replies:

"As you state, shingles is very common among older adults and can cause a disfiguring rash and profound pain that may persist for months after the rash heals. That is why I was so pleased that the recently licensed shingles vaccine reduced the frequency of shingles by half and the awful post-shingles pain by two thirds. Before it was licensed, the vaccine was studied meticulously in more than 38,500 volunteers who ranged from 60 to over 80 years of age. The vaccine was very safe. No cases of shingles could be attributed directly to the vaccine.

"Taking both the considerable benefits as well as the strong safety record into account, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that all adults age 60 and older receive the vaccine to protect against shingles. The only exception is people who have an immunocompromising illness or who are receiving medicines that suppress their immune system. If an individual does not fall into those groups, my strong recommendation is to get vaccinated against shingles. Best wishes for good health."

Federal health officials also recommend annual flu shots for most people. All three components of the 2008-09 flu shot vary from last year's version. In a 2006 Post interview, Dr. Schaffner points out that people cannot get flu from the flu vaccine.
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Title Annotation:MEDICAL MAILBOX
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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