Should You Get A Shingles Vaccine?

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I sent the following letter (below) to the editor of the American Family Physician Journal.  I wrote the letter after reading an article about the shingles vaccine.  “Do I need the shingles vaccine,” is one of the most common questions I receive in my practice.  I hope this letter will help you decide on whether to get the shingles vaccine.  I have reprinted the letter that I sent to the editor.  This letter was rejected by the American Family Physician Journal.

Original article:  Prevention of Herpes Zoster in Older Adults by Jared Kocher published on November 1, 2013

The author wanted to answer the question, “In older adults, is vaccination against herpes zoster effective and safe?  The author summarized the Cochrane Review  and stated that, “The herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine has demonstrated effectiveness in preventing shingles in older adults.”

However, reading the section titled Practice Pointers presented a different picture.  In this section, the author states that, over a median surveillance period of 3.12 years, with over 52,000 participants, there was a 51% relative risk reduction in confirmed cases of herpes zoster in those that received the vaccine.  Furthermore, the author stated that among those aged 60-69, the number needed to treat to prevent one case of shingles was 50.  Among those 70 years and older, the number needed to treat was 100.

These numbers show that, in those aged 60-69, the shingles vaccine was ineffective for 98% (forty-nine out of fifty) of those studied.  For those aged 70 and older, the vaccine was 99% ineffective, since 99 out of 100 received no benefit.

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