Seeking a simple shingles shot

Two days ago standing at the prescription counter at CVS, I nearly lost it.

I got very  frustrated and was taking it out on the young pharmacist at the counter.

The more he tried to explain that CVS no longer carries the shingles vaccine, the more irate I became. Finally, I got a grip. I stopped in mid-tirade and said

“I know it’s not your fault. I’m just so frustrated because I’m doing what I was told to do, and now I need to go home and start over. I apologize.”

What on earth is shingles and how do you get it?

What provoked this incident was my attempt to get a shingles shot. There are four different vaccinations indicated for a person with my risk factors, and Shingles is one of them.

Shingles is a skin rash caused by the Varicella Zoster virus—the same virus which causes chicken pox. And only people who’ve had chickenpox can get shingles. In addition to the rash, the main symptom is pain—intense, protracted pain.

Viruses are diabolical. They invade your body and wreak havoc. If you get better, some viruses go dormant. You may think they’re gone, but they’re still lurking there. After years or even decades, they may become activated and wreak more damage. Think Herpes or AIDS.

Treatment for shingles involves taking antiviral drugs and drugs for the pain. The best course, though, is to prevent it by getting vaccinated for shingles.

How do you get the vaccine?

Normally, getting a vaccine—a shot—is no big deal. But for me getting the shingles shot turned into an obstacle course. One reason is that many doctors, including mine, do not store supplies of the shingles vaccine.

So they write a prescription for a patient (let’s call him Larry) who takes it to a drug-store which gives him a packet of the vaccine to take to his doctor’s office where a doctor or nurse gives him the shot. The technical term for this is “brown-bagging.”

But it’s more complicated than that. The vaccine needs to be kept cold, so Larry needs to bring a small cooler with real ice or frozen Blue-ice packs to the drug-store to bring the vaccine to his doctor’s office. This was the procedure described by Susie (not her real name) at my doctor’s office who also mentioned a specific pharmacy to go to.

Searching for a shingles shot

On Monday this week, I checked my health insurance company’s web site and found out that the pharmacy Susie mentioned was not a service provider in its network, but CVS was. On Tuesday morning I set out.

*** I drove to CVS—armed with my prescription, my medical insurance card, and my small cooler holding several frozen packs of Blue-ice. It was there that I had the interaction described above with the perfectly nice young pharmacist at the prescription counter.

*** I drove back home and called my doctor’s office. This time I spoke to Estelle (not her real name) who promised to get back to me.

*** I checked my health insurance company’s website again and found that RiteAid Pharmacy was also on the list of service providers.

*** I called RiteAid and found out that the pharmacy did carry shingles vaccine.

*** I called my doctor’s office and spoke to Estelle (who had not called me back). She  said that she thought RiteAid also administered the shots at the pharmacy. At this point, I had a feeling of elation: this was the big breakthrough I was waiting for.

*** I called RiteAid back and asked whether the company administered the shots at the pharmacy. The pharmacist said that it did!

*** I drove to RiteAid (which is very near the CVS I had gone to earlier), filled out some forms, waited a bit, and got my shingles shot.

*** When I got home, I called my doctor’s office and spoke to Estelle again. I told her that RiteAid had the vaccine and was able to administer it right then and there. No ice chest, no trip back to the doctor.

The good part

Although the vaccine is not 100% effective in preventing shingles, I’m as immune from this horrible disease as I can be. And for the rest of my life. Also my health insurance covered the cost of the vaccine as part of its preventive care program.

The not-so-good part

*** The process is way too complicated. Some doctors’ offices store shingles vaccine on-site; some send patients to a pharmacy. Some pharmacies store the vaccine on-site; some don’t. Of those which do store the vaccine, some pharmacies administer the shot; some don’t. This last group provides the vaccine, and the patient needs to bring it to his doctor’s office in a cooler to get the shot.

*** The cost aspect has its own complications. If health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of the vaccine, Medicare will. But Medicare won’t cover the cost up front; it will reimburse the cost which is a hefty $200. So you need to get specific information about coverage for shingles vaccination under your own health care insurance and/or Medicare.

*** The worst part though, is that at least one million people a year in the U.S. get this terrible disease which is largely preventable by vaccination. However, the cost of the vaccine, the potential hassle, or both mean that some people at risk may not be able to prevent a long, painful, debilitating bout with shingles.

I hope that my experience will help you avoid some of the problems I encountered and keep you from ranting at a nice young pharmacist who is just trying to help. I welcome your comments

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jason Bush 03/16/2013, 7:50 am

    I made an appointment online to get the shingles vaccine at a local CVS. I got there and was told that they didn’t have the shingles vaccine. How is it possible that a company has a website where you can schedule an appointment for the shingles vaccine at a specific time at a specific CVS and then not have the vaccine? What a poorly run organization!

  • Richard Walker 03/13/2013, 4:44 pm

    My experience today mirrored yours. I stood in line, filled out the forms, handed in my Medicare and medical insurance cards … and was told … “Oh this isn’t covered.” Back to square one.
    I think everybody knows there is a lot of POLITICS behind this issue and our representatives ARE NOT working for their constituents (OLD DEFINITION BEFORE CITIZENS UNITED).

  • Madeleine Kolb 01/24/2013, 8:48 pm

    Flord, It’s often frustrating, and it can be expensive to get a shingles shot. I’ve heard that it’s getting easier, but it doesn’t sound as if that was your experience.

    And this is for a vaccine to prevent a serious and incredibly painful condition. Not to mention the costs for treatment if a person does get shingles. As I said above, I was fortunate that my insurance covered the cost.

  • ray 09/03/2012, 9:19 pm

    I called Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield and both denied any coverage whatsoever for the shingles vaccine. The manufacturer agreed to cover all costs if the doctor ould agree…try to find such a doctor…kind of a joke.

  • Madeleine Kolb 06/22/2012, 8:33 pm

    Carol, Our separate experiences getting a Shingles shot do sound quite similar. And equally frustrating.

    A big problem is that the system is so complicated that even people in your doctor’s office may not know how it works. Or worse yet, they think they know, so they give you incorrect information which causes you to spend way too much time going here and there to get an essential vaccine.

    As you say, it takes a lot of persistence and determination. The good news is that the vaccine is apparently good for the rest of your life.

  • Brenda McGuire 04/20/2012, 1:34 pm

    Do I haft to have a percription from a Doctor to get the shot?

  • Richard 03/10/2012, 11:06 pm

    Got mine from my physician the minute it was available. But I’ve learned you have to be proactive with innoculations. I keep track of my Tdap and ask for a renewal when it gets close to a decade for tetanus. Going to India I got a whole bunch of shots that the WHO or CDC “suggested” but only had them after I specifically asked. You can’t expect physicians and nurses to always be the ones to keep track of such things, or know what you may need.

    • Madeleine Kolb 03/11/2012, 11:55 am

      The key word here is “proactive.” In an earlier post, I linked to a CDC online questionnaire which asks about individual risk factors for certain diseases and comes up with a list of recommended vaccinations. You’re absolutely right about doctors and nurses not always being able to keep track of what vaccinations each patient has had and when.

      I’m glad to hear that you’ve had your Shingles vaccine. What a terrible disease that is.

  • Virgie Hines 09/07/2011, 11:00 am

    I believe half the unhappiness in life comes from people being afraid to go straight at things.

  • Madeleine Kolb 01/08/2011, 2:23 pm

    Angela,
    I didn’t know about the vaccine either. I found out about it when I took the online questionnaire at the CDC website which I refer to in Part 1 of this project, and I’m so glad I did. If you Google “shingles” and look at some of the images of people who have it, especially near their eyes, you’ll want to ask your doctor about the vaccine right away.

    I don’t know whether Vitamin D would help prevent shingles. I haven’t come across any information about that.

    Happy New Year, my friend!

  • Angela Artemis 01/07/2011, 7:06 pm

    Madeleine,
    That was fascinating. I didn’t know there was a vaccine for shingles. I wonder if Vitamin D can prevent shingles too? If your immune system is weak Vitamin D can help –
    Have you ever heard of that?

    Happy New Year to you!
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