Does Medicare cover Vaccines?

Does Medicare cover Vaccines?

I wanted to tell you about what happened to me when I got my second Shingles vaccine shot.

But before I tell you about that, let me tell you that I had waited a very long time to get my first shingles vaccine. I put myself on a waiting list before I moved and I moved in January of 2019! I was able to get my first vaccine shot when I was on vacation in April. So I'm on vacation in April and I get my first vaccine and it was okay. It really hurt when they gave me the shot, and it also hurt for a couple of days after in my arm. But that was basically it. I mean, all I had was some pain and to tell you the truth, I can live with a little pain.

Then it was time for me to get my second Shingles vaccine.

I had to call around because the shingles vaccine apparently is in short supply. A lot of times you have to put yourself on a list to get the shot. I had put myself on a list with no calls, which is why I had to get the first vaccine when I was on vacation. This time I was able to get the second vaccine right here at home. I had called a couple of different pharmacies and they said come on in.

So I went in on a Monday and I wrote this on the following Friday. First of all, this time it was SUPER painful. The first shot was also very painful but I think the second one was even more painful because instead of putting it lower on my arm, they put it on my shoulder. The pain was very intense!

Other than the pain in my arm I was fine…at first.

I went to bed that night and oh my gosh, in a few hours it was crazy how bad I felt!  I woke my husband up in the middle of the night because I was experiencing chills. I actually started crying when he asked me about it. My husband will tell you that I'm not a crier.

Honestly, I felt like I had like the worst flu I've ever had. I had to get up multiple times in the middle of the night and I don't want to be too graphic, but let's just say the word “Brown Liquid”. That's all I'm going to say. It was horrific!

The next day was a Tuesday and I work. I always have clients calling me and the things I have to do. There are always a million things to do for my business.

Usually, if I am sick, I try to sleep with my phone next to my bed.

smartphone on counter with headset

I will normally turn off the ringer, but every now and then I'll answer emails or I check to see if somebody called. I also keep checking my phone in case my assistant calls. She usually only calls if there is an emergency and so I'll let her calls come through.

But not this time. All-day Tuesday I was out. I mean I was OUT COLD. I couldn't talk to anybody, I couldn't read anything. My head was exploding. My stomach was upset. I couldn't get comfortable. I just slept.

The next day, Wednesday, I still had some arm pain, but I was able to work. I got up and was able to walk around. Everything was almost back to normal.

Thursday there was still a little pain at the site of the injection, but I was mostly back to normal. By Friday I was completely fine. 100% back to normal.

So my question to you is, do you think that you should get the Shingles vaccine shot?

Before you answer that, let's look at the symptoms of Shingles:

According to the Mayo Clinic's website, it usually occurs at a small section of one side of your body, and the symptoms include pain, burning, numbness or tingling, sensitivity to the touch. You'll notice a red rash that begins a few days after the pain, fluid-filled blisters that break open and then crust over and start itching. Some people also experience fever, headaches, sensitivity to light and fatigue.

Pain is usually the first symptom of Shingles.

For some, it can be intense depending on the location of the pain. It can sometimes be mistaken for a symptom of problems affecting the heart, lungs or kidneys. And some people experienced Shingles pain without ever developing the rash.

More commonly the shingles rash develops as a stripe of blisters that wrap around either the left or right side of your torso. But sometimes the Shingles rash can develop around one eye or on one side of the neck or face. Something that you should know about Shingles is that you can get it over and over again.

photo depicting shingles blisters which can be avoided by getting the shingles vaccine

That's right…you can have Shingles more than once.

One thing I didn't know is that if you have shingles, you can give somebody Chickenpox if they're not immune to it.

I would say that even though I had a horrible experience with the second Shingles vaccine, I would do it again in a heartbeat!

I've known people that have had Shingles, and I've known people whose loved ones have had Shingles.

And let me tell you something, I would not want to go through that–EVER.

So even though I had a horrible reaction to my second shot, and literally felt like I wanted to die, I would do it all over again. To me, one and a half days of misery is well worth it so that I could almost eliminate my ability to get shingles.

I asked people what their opinion was.

Image of two people talking near a computer laptopWould they get the Shingles vaccine knowing what I went through?

Here are some of their answers.

Mike Robinson is against vaccines in general. But…

I'm the father of two that have Autism so most know how I feel about vaccines. As a cannabinoid medicine researcher, I thought I had all the answers for pain management and more until I got the shingles. I had quit oxycodone only 2 months before using natural extracts and got ‘severe distended shingles'. It didn't matter how much CBD I used, I was admitted into the hospital on two different occasions and put in the negative pressure rooms, isolation! A total of 10 days in the hospital on strong opioids put me right back in the saddle of addiction to pain medication and after 23 yrs of fighting that – I resumed due to the shingles. I was in that much pain with a total of 19 sites photographed by the hospital to use in research. I had them on my scalp, face, in armpits, across back, chest, down my sides, on my legs, and feet. I can't stand vaccinations but after that nightmare and the following year on opioids again until I quit just a short time ago? I'd take the shot over the shingles any day.

-Mike Robinson, Founder, Global Cannabinoid Research Center

I actually never even thought of what people do about Shingles pain if they were addicted to pain medication!  Mike brings up a good point. Getting Shingles can put a recovering addict back into the throes of addiction. So there's that.

Karen Azeez is a health coach.  She knew she wanted the first Shingles vaccine, but her insurance wouldn't pay for it.  Here's what happened:

Because I’m a health coach I was very aware of the shingles virus and its devastating effects. At age 50, I talked to my doctor about getting the vaccine that was available at the time – Zostavax. She told me that my insurance wouldn’t cover it until I was 60, that it was less than 40% reliable and it would only last about 10-15 years – leaving me unprotected to the virus at a time when I would be older and perhaps more vulnerable. So, I decided not to get it.

Fast forward 3 years…I had spent a grueling year and a half in the process of searching for a new home, selling my old home, packing up, moving and fixing up a new home. Whatever could go wrong went wrong: leaks, collapsing shelves, mice, broken appliances.

I was a wreck.

One night, I awoke in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in my back and chest. It was as if a long knitting needle was being pushed back and forth through my torso. It was unlike any other pain I’ve ever had. I got up and tried to move around hoping it was gas or a stiff muscle – but nothing helped.

Finally, after three hours, the pain just dissipated on its own. But it returned the next night with a vengeance.

At that point, I was worried that I was having a heart attack.

I woke my husband and we took a cab to the hospital. After six hours of EKGs and blood tests, they told me I probably had heartburn (which I never had in my life!) and I should get a good antacid.

I walked home confused.

The next day I felt a new pain that traveled from under my breast to the middle of my back and felt like a dozen bee stings. I immediately pulled up my shirt and saw what looked like bites. I thought to myself, “on top of this mystery chest pain, now I have bugs!”

It wasn’t until the next day that something clicked in my brain: red lesions and pain = shingles. I made the first appointment I could with my doctor’s practice – two days from then.

When I went in, they practically laughed because my lesions were textbook shingles. They prescribed an anti-viral to be taking 5 times a day but cautioned it would only help if I caught the onset of Shingles in the first 72 hours.

I was pretty sure I hadn’t but took it anyway, setting an alarm in the middle of the night to take them.

Because we didn’t catch it early, I suffered from intermittent pain that was varied and unpredictable. Sometimes it merely burned, scratched or tingled and other times it was like an electric knife.

This went on for more than 2 months – weeks after the lesions healed.

Two years later, I still experience tingling in the area from time to time.

I have asked for the Shingrix vaccine but I’m on a waiting list.

I also talk to everyone about this and write about my experience with stress and Shingles so that others may avoid this horrible experience.

And, in that time I’ve known three people under 60 – one only 38 years old! – to have Shingles. Please know the signs and don’t hesitate if you think you have symptoms.2

Can you imagine going through all this?  Having “textbook” symptoms but no one knowing what they were? I personally would have been angry. But it looks like she has the attitude of caring, and now she's helping other people understand why they would want to get the vaccine!

Like her, I've heard of very young people getting Shingles. The pharmacist who gave me the first vaccine said she's heard of people in their 20's who have come down with it!

Do you have to be over 50 to get the Shingles vaccine?

Before I heard back from author Susan LeBron of “No Fig Leaves Allowed! Getting Emotionally Naked!”, I thought that you had to be over 50 years old to get Shingrix.  But that is not necessarily the case:

I have had chronic Shingles outbreaks since I was a teenager.

For me, they are stress-induced.

The pain in my back and sides is so intense, I feel like I’ve fallen from a 10 story building and landed on my back.

It hurts to breathe.

After the pain, comes intense itching, followed by band and clusters of blisters. It was all I could do not to pop (all) those blisters and relieve the pressure.

I tried everything.

Years of washing every piece of clothing and being so careful not to spread to anyone else. To this day, I never feel safe reusing a towel and am careful to use a separate body & face towel- even when I do not have a breakout.

Wow!  I hadn't thought of that!  Good Point Susan!  She went on to say:

Years ago, I was prescribed Valtrex and sent home with numbing creams.

It was unheard of for a youth to even have Shingles much less several attacks. Fast forward to adulthood and the hassle it has been to be on anti-viral medications while awaiting the births of my six children.

The risks of birth during an outbreak was too great a chance.

I opted to take the medication, to stave off an attack, just in case.

My husband, on the other hand, was not so lucky. He reported to his first job on a Navy ship with a classic case of Chicken Pox!

Quickly quarantined, I suspected he had gotten it from exposure to me.

I wonder how many people (like me) didn't realize that someone could get Chicken Pox from someone with a Shingles outbreak.  Honestly, until I researched the topic for this article I didn't know. 

Shingles can be a bitch.  Especially if you have multiple outbreaks a year as Susan does.

I have suffered for many years with three, four, and sometimes five and six Shingles attacks a year. When I learned there was a shot that can help prevent, or perhaps minimize the frequency of, Shingles attacks I jumped at the chance.

The documentation of my outbreaks was enough to get my insurance to cover the first shot though it was usually covered only for Seniors.

That was about three years ago.

While I was thrilled to have had less frequent outbreaks, they did not subside totally. I still got two or three a year.

I recently heard of the new two injection Shingrix series and aligned my Doctor to prescribe it for me.

I was excited to get the first injection in my left arm last week.

I guess that you CAN get the Shingles vaccine even if you are under the age of 50.  (Or perhaps Susan is over 50 and she just looks fantastic?) Anyway, I'm happy that she was able to work with her doctor to get it. 

But it wasn't all rosy for Susan either: 

The Pharmacist at Walmart mixed two vials into the syringe and slowly administered it.

Onset of discomfort really started about 6 hours from shot. While I did feel like I had a case of the flu with body fatigue, and overall yuck, the site pain was moderate but manageable.

There was a stiff lump for about three days. It felt like I had worked out at the gym and got punched in the arm.

Icing and rubbing it gently with CBD oil helped on Day Three.

By Day Four, I had full mobility without pain unless the area is pressed directly.

Overall, I would do it again if there was even the slightest chance I could prevent it.

Having been a victim of the pain of Shingles, I highly recommend getting the shot and avoiding an outbreak if you can.

I’m on standby to see if this shot brings on an attack. So far so good.

Now I wait for the second dose. It is due in two months.3

I'm hoping that Susan doesn't have the same side effects that I did with her second Shingrix vaccine that she'll be getting in a couple of months.  And based on those side effects, a good amount of people shy away from getting the shot.

One anonymous respondent from Castle Rock, CO had a worse reaction than I did.  Here is her story:

Two weeks after I turned 60, in January 2017, I got shingles – on my right arm and hand. Like many people, I had no clue what was going on, as I just had intense pain and no rash. I thought I may have pinched a nerve, saw a massage therapist, and had made an appointment with a physical therapist.

When the pain did not abate after a few days, I went to my PCP. I was lucky because it was literally on the way to the office that the tiniest of a red dot appeared on my elbow… He was able to diagnose from there.

I had not gotten the “old” Zoster vaccine. I had intended to once I turned 60, but I guess I should have gotten it on my birthday! The PCP advised me to wait and get the Shingrix vaccine.

Shingrix – Dose No. 1

I got the first dose in early March 2018. I had read carefully about the vaccine and its side effects, so when I woke up the next morning and felt gastric distress and nausea, I was disappointed but not completely surprised. I quickly went to the bathroom, with diarrhea. Sitting on the toilet, I felt worse and like I was going to throw up.

I remember trying to get to the sink in the bathroom, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor, having fainted.

Thankfully, my husband was at home, heard the thud, came running and took me to the ER. I was fortunate in that I fell on carpet in a slump, hitting my butt and shoulder, and not my head. I was out for 10-15 seconds.

At the ER, everything was fine. They said it was likely vasovagal syncope, not unusual, and that I was a little dehydrated (not surprising with the diarrhea, living in Colorado and being very active), so gave me fluids and said to see my PCP.  They did not believe the fainting was from the vaccine itself, but from normal side effects of the vaccine.

I did see my PCP the next day. He agreed with the assessment, said to resume normal activity, and to come back if anything else unusual happened.

Two weeks later, sitting on the couch about 1.5 hours after my masters’ swim team practice ended, I was feeling tired (as usual after swimming 2.5 miles), but fine. Suddenly, my heart started skipping beats – what I later learned were PVCs, but I had no idea at the time. This went on for 15 minutes and suddenly stopped..

As that was indeed unusual, I did go back to my PCP. He explained the PVCs and that they were generally not harmful. He did an EKG (all was fine) and said that if they persisted, come back and he could do some additional testing. He said they can “come out of nowhere” and did not think they were connected to the Shingrix dose.

Flu, PVCs

Well, it turned out that I was back in the PCP’s office three days later, as I got the flu. I had managed to go all winter without it, but then got “Flu B” in mid-March. Fortunately, I caught it early and got Tamiflu, which helped.

As I gradually resumed exercise two weeks later, the PVCs returned – exactly 1.5 hours after I did aerobic exercise, without fail. They would last 3-4 hours.. I did return to my PCP. He had an ultrasound done (normal), had me wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours, and see a cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology. In the meantime, he started me on 12.5mg of Metropolol 30 minutes before exercise – which worked perfectly. No PVCs.

The Holter monitor did show the PVCs post-exercise. The cardiologist said that there was no problem because they were such a low percent of total heart beats, and since everything else was normal. He suggested taking 12.5mg Metropolol every morning and night to get a level dose in my system, but explained it really just masks the problem; it’s for convenience and comfort.

That dose was far too high for me, as it dropped my blood pressure (generally a very healthy 108/68 or so) down to 90/50. So I VERY, VERY gradually decreased the dosage while increasing my activity level. By late August, I was down to 3.125mg (yes, I got really good with the pill splitter!) only before running. I had no more PVCs after cycling or swimming.

Shingrix – Dose No. 2

In early September, I had to get the second dose of the Shingrix. Because the bout of shingles I had in my arm was SO awful, even with all that had happened, I still wanted to get it. I did, and while I had no gastric effects, the post-exercise PVCs returned. They were not as severe as earlier that year. I did up the Metropolol dose before exercise, and again VERY gradually decreased it as I increased activity.

In late October, I got my flu shot. I had a very small spike in post-exercise PVCs for about a week.

By January 2019 – and since then – I have had no PVCs and no Metropolol.

Bottom line: Physicians do not believe the Shingrix and PVCs are connected. There is no research they (or I) can find on this. However, it does seem that there’s some immune system response going on. My gynecologist suggested it could be something in the vaccine base. I don’t know, but I do know I had no problems whatsoever before I got the Shingrix vaccine.

(If I had to do it over again) I think I would still get it, given the success ratio of Shingrix and my awful experience already having had Shingles. However, there is definitely a lingering question I have in my own mind as to whether it really did affect my heart.

What a horrible experience this respondent had!  I thought that my flu-like symptoms were the worst. She certainly had it worse than I did.

I polled social media and several people said they would not get the vaccine for one reason or another.

DL said that “I had shingles about 15 years ago and Bells Palsy 3 years ago. My immune system would not appreciate the vaccine.  There have been cases of people getting Bells Palsy after the shingles shot”.

And BL agreed by stating  “…Do not plan on getting this vaccine. Know of too many ill effects from it.”

Another person, DB, isn't able to get the vaccine due to an allergy.  “If you have a latex allergy, Shingrix, Pneumonia and Tetanus vaccines all have latex in the ‘delivery system' — so (pharmacy) wouldn't give them to me.  Searched but no latex-free options found anywhere”.

I did get some positive responses to my inquiry on social media.

In fact, the majority of the responses were positive. If they could find a pharmacy that had it.  Remember it took me MONTHS of regular checking to finally find a pharmacy that had it, and I was on vacation for my first one.  Once you get the first shot though, you'll be moved “up the list” to get your second one since there is a time limit to do it.

One viewer of my YouTube video wrote:

Hi Kathe, that’s a horrible reaction! I’m hoping I won’t suffer the same when I get #2 vaccine.

I’ve been on waiting list for second Shingrix since I had my first on Oct. 31, 2018!

I checked with nurse about getting second a few months ago and my clinic ( Univ of MI) still had not gotten the additional vaccine!

Makes me wonder if many have gotten reactions that the manufacturer has slowed distribution?

I did have some arm soreness with #1, but dissipated after 24 hours.

I get flu shot regularly. I will make sure I’m not getting ready for a trip when I get #2, if I can get it scheduled.

Glad you are feeling better now!

And Randy Gardner, Rock Your Retirement Listener and YouTube viewer agreed:

I would definitely get the newest “Shingrix” vaccine. Matter of fact, I had gotten the original vaccine about 10 yrs ago, and I recently got my 2nd shot of Shingrix. So I guess I did do it over. I have had Shingles and almost lost an eye. My Father has had Shingles and the last time they put him in isolation in the hospital.

I had asked if anyone had bad reactions like I did.  I was wondering what people thought who had similar reactions.  I didn't find anyone who had a reaction as violent as mine, but even people who had (normal) bad reactions said they'd do it again:

LM wrote about her experience with the Shingles vaccine:  “I also had a terrible reaction when I got my second shot. For several days my arm was very sore and achy, I had a low-grade fever for 5 days, achy all over and the site of the shot was so painful I couldn't sleep on that arm. BUT…I don't want to experience shingles! I know several people who have and it is horrible”.

PK knows people who've had bad reactions but had early symptoms of shingles. “The new vaccine is supposed to be 94% effective as opposed to the previous shot, which was a one-time shot. I know people who have had the shot and said they did not feel well for a couple of days. I had early symptoms of Shingles, ended up in the ER and fortunately the early diagnosis and put me on meds, stopped it before I broke out. Have no desire to go through it and will be getting the shot”.

One person said that even if you've already had shingles you should get the vaccine to prevent further outbreaks.  (Discuss this with your doctor first). 

In response to a question whether one should get the Shingles shot if they've already had an outbreak:   Absolutely … having had shingles does not prevent having again.

And this viewer agreed that it's too big a risk to avoid the shot:

After having a huge shingles outbreak on my eye and face, I couldn't wait to get the vaccine. Had the old on the day I turned 60 and the new two part one a year ago. Too much pain from shingles to even consider going without

I had all the shots and I also had shingles.some years before.. can tell you. you don't want to have shingles

Some people are lucky, with little or no side effects of the vaccine. To them, it was an easy decision:

Husband and I (got) both shots (with) no reaction so (it's) important to get the vaccination. We both had the first vaccination about 15 years ago.  (And) this was the two vaccine series we just had in January.

Barely noticed the 2nd vaccine. After the first one my upper arm was somewhat red and swolled for what seemed quite a while but it resolved.

If you are on Medicare, your drug plan may cover the Shingles Shot under Part D.  Be sure and contact your drug plan to see what your co-pay or co-insurance will be because Shingrix isn't cheap.

What's your take on the Shingles vaccine?

Do you know anyone who's had Shingles?

Perhaps that's the deciding factor.  If you know how terrible it is, you bite the bullet and get the vaccine.  If you don't know anyone who's had shingles, you don't worry about it.

 

  1. MikesMedicines.com, https://www.mikesmedicines.com/medical-marijuana/the-cannabis-love-story/, Mike Robinson
  2. Karen Azeez Well Beings, www.karenazeezwellbeings.org, Karen Azeez
  3. No Fig Leaves Allowed (book), https://www.amazon.com/No-Fig-Leaves-Allowed-Emotionally/dp/0692271066, Susan LeBron

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