The US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has made the recommendation on Wednesday that adults over 60 get immunised against the shingles(herpes zoster) virus.
The vaccine is called Zostavax (Merck& Co)and the FDA had given approval for its use in May. It has a live virus several times more potent than the children's chicken pox virus, also from Merck.
Shingles is an extremely painful rash caused by the same virus varicella zoster which causes chicken pox in younger people. It is common in older adults, and 20% of those affected are left with after effects like scars and hearing or vision loss. Immunization is recommended even if the person has had an earlier attack.
Over a million cases of shingles occur every year in the US and the average person has a 30% chance of developing it during their lifetime. Since older people have less immunity and may also have to contend with other chronic health problems, the vaccine will provide protection against a debilitating disease.
Zostavax has been shown to reduce the risk by 51% and also to minimise the discomfort even if the disease occurs. The vaccine costs $150 and has had sales of $11 million since it came on the market. Merck hopes that the panel endorsement will lead to more usage by doctors and greater insurance coverage.
Zostavax is not recommended during pregnancy, or for people allergic to gelatin or other vaccine components, or those whose with AIDS or on chemotherapy.