Sunday, November 12, 2006

Merck is trying to scare you


At least 3 times a week in the local paper (and perhaps every day, but these are the days I read it) there is a full page ad trying to convince me I have shingles. Or I would have shingles... if I were just more cutting edge.

Herpes Zoster is our friend chicken pox all grown up. (Herpes Zoroastra is chickenpox that serves the Seven Bounteous Creations, but that's not important right now.) And Merck would like you take Zostavax for it. They would also like some help coming up with more creative names for medications, since "pox-B-gone" and "shinglex" were already spoken for.

So let's play... scare vs. care.

Merck: 90% of adults are at risk for shingles.
Fact: true, but according to this logic -
People who have had chicken pox are at risk for shingles.
90% of US adults have had chicken pox.

You are also at risk for a rhinovirus. 61 million of us will get one this year; only 1 million will get
shingles. 60% of them will be in their 80s.

Merck: "You should know that there is no way to predict who will get shingles, or when."
My God, it's like Communism!

Don't make fun - isn't it serious?
When you are 80, everything is serious. Shingles can also be life-threatening if you are immune-deficient. So is the rhinovirus. And a plate of eggs.

It hurts, though. I've heard that.
You have heard that from Merck: "The shingles rash can be painful"
NIH: "For most healthy people, the lesions heal, the pain subsides within 3 to 5 weeks, and the blisters leave no scars." Chickenpox wouldn't have either, if you had left it alone.

So what does the vaccine do?
Key point about vaccines - you have to get them before you have the condition. Otherwise, it does nothing. And since shingles reputedly comes like a thief in the night, you are thinking you'd better get it NOW.

What you want to do is measure your odds against getting shingles (3 in 1000 in the 40 age group; 10 in 1000 over 80) against your odds of getting vaccine side effects
33.7% redness
33.4% pain
25% swelling
painful skin rash

painful skin rash

I like this section:
"Zostavax is used to prevent herpes zoster virus (shingles) in people age 60 and older...Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. " He would like to write a paper about you.

Moreover, the people most at risk for a life-threatening case of shingles (or, as your Aunt Betty is determined to call it, "THE shingles") can't actually take the vaccine:
Do not receive this vaccine if you have:
leukemia, lymphoma, or other cancer affecting bone marrow;
HIV or AIDS, or an infection related to either condition;
active untreated tuberculosis;
or if you are receiving medicines that weaken your immune system, such as steroids or cancer treatments.

"There may be other drugs that can affect Zostavax."
Old people don't take a lot of those, do they?

And.... and... it is not covered by Medicare.
"In the absence of injury or direct exposure, preventive immunization (vaccination or inoculation) against such diseases as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, etc., is not covered."

$150 bucks for the one time shot. Or, get to your doctor within 72 hours of attack for anitviral medications.
Call it a gamble.


  1. They're pandering to the hypochondriacs in our nation. And they are probably being successful in so doing.

    (I'm going to go call my dr. now to set up an appt. to get the vaccine.)

  2. Oh thank you for this! Every time I see that commercial about Shingles I get mad all over again. They getting stuck with vials and vials of this stuff because THE PRICE IS OUTRAGEOUS


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