Testing on shingles vaccine delays program in U.K.

A temporary delay with the supply of Zostavax, a shingles vaccine manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur MSD, may cause delays to a vaccination program in the U.K., Public Health England said on Friday.

National distribution of Zostavax started on August 1, based on assurances of continuity of supply from Sanofi, but the rigorous testing process all vaccines must endure took longer than expected. Delays of this nature are unusual but not unheard of.

A significant volume of the vaccine supply was already distributed throughout the National Health Service in England, allowing many clinics to go ahead with the program as planned.

"Although we are disappointed with the delay of the shingles vaccine arriving in the U.K. as planned, PHE is working with the manufacturer to agree (to) remedial action and resume supplies as quickly as possible," Bruce Taylor, the head of vaccines and countermeasures response at PHE, said. "A large quantity of vaccine has already been distributed across the U.K. to start the program which began on September 1."

The vaccines were part of a program to reduce the incidence and severity of shingles disease in older people. Individuals in the U.K. between the ages of 70 and 79 were offered Zostavax starting on September 1 after being identified as the group most likely to benefit from vaccination.

"We do not expect this temporary delay to impact the overall program to immunize 70 and 79 year olds," Taylor said. "The vaccine can be administered to the two eligible cohorts at any time between September 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014."

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a nerve infection that impacts the area of skin around the nerve. In some serious cases, the infection causes a rash of painful, fluid-filled blisters on the skin that may burst and turn into sores. PHE estimates the incidence of shingles in England and Wales to be 790 to 880 cases per 100,000 people between the ages of 70 and 79.