Is there a vaccine available in SUS? This is one of the main doubts of those who Google information about herpes zoster, a disease that has grown in the country.
From March to August 2017, 5,691 cases were reported in the public system, which grew to 7,021 in the same period of 2019, for example. From March to August 2020, the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil, the number rose to 8,695 and, between September and February 2021, it rose to 9,654.
The data are in studies published in 2021 and 2022 by researchers from the universities of Alfenas, José do Rosário Vellano, State of Montes Claros, State of Campinas and Federal of Paraíba.
Scientists highlight the increase in occurrences during the pandemic period and say that more research is still needed to understand the reasons for this association. On the other hand, they defend the need for measures to improve the control of herpes zoster, also known as shingles.
The disease occurs due to the reactivation of the Varicella-Zoster virus, the same as chickenpox, when immunity is reduced due to illness or aging.
Over time, the body loses part of the immunity acquired during life, and the virus, which was latent in the body of those who had chickenpox, awakens and begins to cause pain in the nerves and leave a trail of lesions, explains Mônica Levi, director of Brazilian Society of Immunizations.
“Anyone who lives up to 85 years has a chance of around 50% of having the disease”, says the doctor.
Immunocompromised people, such as those who undergo a bone marrow transplant, are also very likely to develop the disease, which can cause different complications.
Among the possible problems, the Ministry of Health highlights impairments in limb movement, speech and swallowing; reduction in the amount of platelets; secondary bacterial infections; and post-herpetic neuralgia, a persistent pain that is difficult to treat. In rare cases, the disease can lead to death.
The SUS offers the vaccine against chickenpox —the first dose is given at 12 months of age and the second between 15 months and 4 years—, but not for herpes zoster. In the case of the latter, there are two vaccines available, both in private clinics.
The first is only for people over 50 years old. Levi reports that, as it is a vaccine made with attenuated live virus, it is contraindicated for immunosuppressed people.
The single-dose vaccine costs from BRL 500 and is 69.8% effective among people aged 50 to 59 years.
The other vaccine, which arrived in the country in June, is produced from a virus protein, a technology that allowed it to be licensed not only for adults over 50 years old but also for immunocompromised people from 18 years old.
The effectiveness of the immunizer is 96.6% among those aged 50 to 59 years and the application is done in two doses, each costing between R$ 750 and R$ 1,000.
According to Geraldo Barbosa, president of the Brazilian Association of Vaccine Clinics, the price varies according to the dollar exchange rate and the region of the country.
Another factor that weighs is the fact that it is still a novelty. “Every time a vaccine is launched it comes at a higher price and, as demand increases, prices tend to fall. We believe that, in the future, we will have a better condition.”
Barbosa informs that those over 50 years old do not need a medical prescription, but it is recommended to consult a specialist about the potential benefits of immunization.
Those between 18 and 49 years old must submit a doctor’s request. As much as there is an indication of immunization for cancer patients or people living with HIV/AIDS, for example, there are precautions that need to be taken and a specialist’s evaluation is necessary, including the best time for application.
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