FDA approves shingles vaccine for those between 50 and 59

The Food and Drug Administration has announced the approval for the use of Merck & Co. Inc.’s Zostavax vaccine, which is a live attenuated virus vaccine, to prevent shingles in people aged 50 to 59.  

The vaccine had already been approved for use in those aged over 60. Shingles affects close to 200,000 healthy people between ages 50 and 59 in the United States. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.

After a case of the chickenpox, the virus will lie dormant in particular nerves within the body. The virus can then reappear in the form of shingles in those who are aging or those with weakened immune systems.

“The likelihood of shingles increases with age,” Karen Midthun, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said. “The availability of Zostavax to a younger age group provides an additional opportunity to prevent this often painful and debilitating disease.”

The symptoms of shingles include a rash of blisters that typically develop on one side of the body in a band. They can lead to severe pain that can last for weeks, months or even years in some patients.

Approval was reached because of a multicenter study conducted in the United States that showed that Zostavax reduced the risk of developing shingles by close to 70 percent compared with the placebo. It was originally approved on May 26, 2006, for the prevention of shingles in those aged 60 and older.