Last year, older Americans were told that the shingles vaccine was effective at cutting their risk of getting the painful red rash caused by the chicken pox virus. The only problem: A paltry supply meant few people could get the shot.
This year, there's not only ample supply, there are now TV ads urging people 60 and older to get the vaccine, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Drug company Merck, which makes the Zostavax vaccine, has begun running TV ads about the painful skin and nerve condition caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox.
Once you've had chicken pox, the virus, called herpes zoster, lies dormant in the spinal cord's nerve roots and can flare up during times of stress or illness when we're older.
Shingles typically starts with a small patch of red, bumpy rash that is extremely painful.
If left untreated, the rash can spread, causing long-lasting pain and nerve damage, especially among those in their 80s. And, unfortunately, you can get shingles more than once.
The new television commercials stress getting the vaccine -- without mentioning the drug by name -- and that those who have had chicken pox are at risk for getting shingles.
The commercials aren't targeted at people in their 50s, even though the FDA has approved use of the vaccine by that age group. A recent Merck-funded study found that Zostavax reduced outbreaks of the disease in people age 50 to 59 by nearly 70 percent compared with a control group who took a placebo.
A study last year of 300,000 adults age 60 and older found that the shingles vaccine cuts the risk of getting the disease and can prevent some of its more dangerous side effects, including damage to the eye.