July 20, 2024

Taylor Daily Press

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Still no shingles vaccination campaign: ‘It could have prevented a lot of suffering’

Still no shingles vaccination campaign: ‘It could have prevented a lot of suffering’

As if I was burned: this is how 61-year-old Elis Menesma experiences it. She contracted herpes zoster a year ago and is still in a lot of pain to this day. “It spoils my enjoyment of life. My nerves have been damaged by shingles. I have shooting pains, cramps sometimes. Like my bruised rib.”

Shingles is an infection that cause a rash. People get it from the same virus that infected them with chickenpox before. It causes itching and a stinging, burning or stabbing sensation. Some people experience long-term nerve pain from this condition. This is especially true for people over the age of 60 (further explanation: see gray box below).

Vaccination ‘very helpful’

Each year, 88,000 patients, most of them women, see their doctor for herpes zoster. There is a vaccine against it. Early in 2019, the Board of Health said it was ‘extremely beneficial’ to vaccinate everyone from age 60 against shingles. The vaccine will prevent about 90 percent of cases of herpes zoster. In 2020, a parliamentary motion called for the government to do so as soon as possible.

However, this round of vaccination will not happen, says Secretary of State Martin van Ogen (Public Health). “There is no money for extra expenses at the moment,” he says. “And shingles immunization is an extra costly investment, with amounts ranging from 80 to 200 million euros per year in the first years and 40 million per year thereafter structurally.”

“I stand by the choice we made and at the same time I’m disappointed,” says Van Ooijen. The Secretary of State says he will continue to work on this in the coming years.

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unexpected decision

“This decision comes as a surprise,” says Jolanda Hoffnagel, MD, an infectious disease control physician and chair of the Vaccination Working Group. “Four years ago, the Board of Health recommended that all people over 60 be vaccinated against shingles. Earlier this year, the Secretary of State was also positive about the vaccination drive. So we assumed it was coming.”

Hufnagel was disappointed with the decision. “The suffering of many people can be avoided by vaccination. Shingles can be associated with neuralgia that can last for several months in some people. It is a pain complaint that is not easy to treat and therefore can have a significant impact on your life.”

Research shows that the vaccine prevents 9 out of 10 cases of herpes zoster. “It’s an effective and safe vaccine,” says Hoefnagel.

precious relationship

Patient Elis Menesma also regrets that the vaccination campaign will not be launched at the moment. Paying for the vaccination yourself – which includes two injections that together cost around €350 – is expensive. “For a lot of people, that’s the threshold. So it was very nice for the government to pay for it.”

The question is whether she will get rid of it. “I’m still in a lot of pain, but I’m trying to live my life as much as I can as I did before. Even if one day things work out better than the other.”

What is shingles?

One in four people will get shingles at some point. Of the 88,000 annual doctor visits for herpes zoster, 5 percent experience pain for more than three months. The older you get, the more likely you are to experience long-term pain. Every year 500 people are hospitalized, and it is estimated that 20 people die from it each year.

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Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus. Most people catch this in childhood, which leads to chickenpox. The virus remains in the body. As we get older, the immune system works less. The chickenpox virus can resurface and cause shingles. Painful, itchy red spots and blisters often appear on the skin, usually appearing on one side of the body in a “strap” shape.

The new Shingrix vaccine prevents about 90 percent of cases of herpes zoster.