There is a shortage of Shingrix, the shingles vaccine.

Shingrix, the two-dose vaccine approved last year to prevent shingles and its blistery skin rash, continues to be in short supply—and shortfalls may last through the end of the year, according to Kathleen Dooling, M.D., a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How long you may have to wait for the vaccine may depend on where you live. “It probably varies throughout the country and is a moving target,” Dooling says. “We know that in some places supply is meeting demand, and in other places it’s not. There are a lot of factors, particularly large pharmacy chains’ ability to move supply around.”

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the manufacturer of Shingrix, calls the level of demand unprecedented and says it is shipping “large volumes” of the vaccine to pharmacies every two or three weeks—which it expects to continue doing through the end of the year. 

GSK spokesman Sean Clements says the company is also keeping government agencies up to date on current supplies. GSK declined to specify the specific steps it is taking to prevent shortages in the future, but said in a statement, “Going forward, providers and patients can feel confident that more doses are being made available regularly and that they will be able to find the vaccine to complete their two-dose series.”  

More on Vaccines

Difficulty getting the vaccine is bad news for those who want to protect themselves against shingles, which can bring two to four weeks of painful skin eruptions and, in 20 percent of cases, the lingering nerve pain known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). Shingles occurs when the chickenpox virus, dormant in those who once had the illness, reawakens years later. It strikes about 1 in 3 people at some point, and the older you are, the higher your risk.

The apparent effectiveness of Shingrix might explain the high interest. In clinical trials, the vaccine, which is approved for most people 50 and older, provides up to 90 percent protection against shingles and 86 percent protection against PHN.

That makes it far more effective than Zostavax, the single-dose shingles vaccine that has been available since 2006. It cuts shingles risk by 51 percent and PHN risk by 67 percent. The CDC considers Shingrix the preferred vaccine over Zostavax but says, “Zostavax may still be used to prevent shingles in healthy adults 60 years and older.”

Note that not all health insurance plans cover the vaccine, so check with your insurer first. And if you’re on Medicare, whether you’ll be covered can depend on whether you have signed up for a Medicare Part D plan. Read more about how to pay for your shingles vaccine.

Here’s what else you need to know about Shingrix availability and the steps to take to protect yourself from shingles.

What Can You Do to Find Shingrix?

If you’re eligible for Shingrix (50 or older, and not immunocompromised or taking moderate to high doses of drugs that suppress immunity), you can start by asking whether your pharmacist or doctor currently has the vaccine, suggests the American Pharmacists Association (APhA). 

If no Shingrix is in stock, ask when they expect more and whether you can be put on a waiting list. (Some pharmacies and other providers may be keeping these.) Ask if they’ll contact you or whether you should call them periodically about restocking, and whether they know of another provider who may currently have Shingrix.

You might also want to contact other area pharmacies yourself. The CDC’s Vaccine Finder and GSK’s Shingle Vaccine Locator may be useful, but it’s wise to phone ahead before trekking to a far-flung pharmacy.

“The websites are not up-to-the-minute, so what’s showing in the vaccine finder may reflect yesterday or last week’s information,” Dooling says.

How Can You Get Your Second Dose?

As soon as you get your first dose, make an appointment for the second dose two months later, Dooling says. Ask whether the provider—usually a pharmacy or doctor—is keeping a list of people who need the second dose, because they should receive priority, according to the CDC. 

“Find out if they have a recall and reminder system for people who’ve had their first dose,” Dooling adds. 

Once you receive notification that your second dose is available, call the day before you’re scheduled to receive it to confirm, the APhA says.

But don’t skip that second shot. The two-dose recommendation is based on research, and we don’t have any evidence on how well just one dose might protect against shingles.

“You obviously get some immune response, but exactly how strong it is and how long the protection lasts is not known,” says William Schaffner, M.D., professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. 

And If You Can't Find That Second Shot?

The CDC’s recommendation, based on evidence from clinical trials, is to get your second dose of Shingrix anywhere from two to six months after the first. 

But if it takes longer than that to locate a second dose, don’t worry, Schaffner says. The CDC advises simply getting that second dose as soon as you can find it—and no, you don’t have to start the series over.

“The timing is not critical,” Schaffner notes. “You just don’t want to get it sooner than recommended because then the body’s immunity is still working on the first dose, so you don’t get the full benefit of the second.”

It’s also fine to get your second dose from a different pharmacy or doctor than your first. “But let your home-base provider know you’ve gotten it,” Schaffner says. “As soon as I got my second dose, I sent my physician an email so he could put it in my medical record.” 

What If You Can't Get a First Dose Anywhere?

One reasonable option, if you’re eligible, is to have the Zostavax vaccine in the interim, say both Dooling and Schaffner—but if you do so, you will need to wait at least eight weeks before getting the newer vaccine.

(Note that the CDC recommends that anyone who’s had Zostavax also get Shingrix and that Zostavax can’t be used as a substitute for a second dose of Shingrix.)

Finally, “Keep looking and be patient,” Dooling says. “It is worth the wait, and we anticipate that supply will catch up with demand.”