A new vaccine against shingles is now available across Canada for people over the age of 60, says the vaccine's maker, Merck Frosst Canada.
While the vaccine has been in use in the United States for the past two years, supply shortages have meant the drug wasn't available in Canada until now.
Merck Frosst says zostavax is the only shingles vaccine currently available and is designed specifically for people over 60. It requires specialized storage, so not all clinics and doctors' offices are able to offer it.
Still, Calgary family doctor Connie Ellis says the vaccine is welcome news for anyone who has had chicken pox. Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus and can lead to painful skin and nerve damage.
"Probably by the time those people reach the age of 60, 50 per cent will have had shingles or will get shingles," says Ellis.
"It can cause debilitating pain …We don't know why it's more prevalent amongst seniors but we certainly know that as time goes on and as people age, they're more likely to get shingles."
Anyone who has had chicken pox is at risk of developing shingles, but the likelihood and severity increase significantly with age, with two-thirds of cases occurring in those over the age 50.
While Health Canada has approved the vaccine, it is not covered by provincial health insurance plans and costs about $150.