Federal recommendation a likely boon to Merck's anti-shingles vaccine

November 7, 2006

Washington-The federal government's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that Americans aged 60 and above get anti-shingles vaccinations.

Washington-The federal government’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that Americans aged 60 and above get anti-shingles vaccinations.

The Committee’s recommendations typically are accepted by federal health officials, and influence insurance companies’ decisions on which vaccinations they will cover.

Studies show that antiviral medications are of limited help and that they do not prevent shingles from progressing into postherpetic neuralgia.

The only anti-shingles vaccine available is Merck & Co.’s Zostavax, which the Food and Drug Administration approved in May. Though it appears to hold the shingles-causing virus in check and helps prevent the resurgence of the virus by boosting a patient’s immunity, Zostavax does not prevent infection by the virus. Merck reportedly is investigating whether the vaccine will help people who have already had shingles.

Merck said it has sold about $11 million worth of the vaccine since it came on the market. Some health insurers now cover it-and the Committee’s recommendation is likely to increase the number that do.