FNHA expands shingles vaccine coverage to elders over 65

The First Nations Health Authority has announced that it is now providing a free shingle vaccine to all elders over the age of 65. Previously, the FNHA covered the vaccine for only those between the ages of 65 – 69.

“Effective Feb​ruary​ 1, 2021, FNHA’s Shingrix® shingles vaccine coverage is available at no cost to First Nations elders who are 65 years old and older. This change is intended to make the vaccine accessible to a larger segment of the elder population. Coverage was previously limited to those aged 65 to 69,” says a FNHA statement on Jan. 29.

According to information from the federal government, shingles is the name commonly used for herpes zoster, an infection that shows up as a painful skin rash with blisters. The rash usually appears on one side of the body, often in a strip.

People get shingles when the virus that causes chicken pox, varicella zoster, is reactivated in their body. The varicella zoster virus does not leave the body, even after a person has recovered from chicken pox. It can flare up again, causing shingles, often many years after a person has had chicken pox. The virus tends to reactivate when a person's immune system is weakened because of another health problem.

Ahousaht elders Wally and Donna Samuel have both had shingles in recent years. They describe the rash as really painful.

“I felt it in my side, I thought I had a broken or cracked rib,” said Wally.

His initial symptom was pain. It was not until after he went to the doctor that he developed the classic shingles rash on one side of his lower chest. The pain was so great that he couldn’t bear the feel of fabric rubbing on his rash and had to cut pieces of his shirt off.

Donna came down with shingles on her shoulder nearly 20 year ago. She said it lasted about four to six months.

Some people experience pain around the rash site for a month or more – pain that is severe enough to interfere with daily activities. The occurrence and severity of shingles and its complications increase with age.

So, the news that The Shingrix® vaccine, which costs $200 per shot according the Fraser Health Authority, is welcome for elders who usually live on a fixed income. It takes two shots of the vaccine to become fully effective.

The Shingrix vaccine can be prescribed by a physician or nurse practitioner.

The Health Benefits program also covers injection fees when the pharmacist administers Shingrix® to clients. Information for pharmacists about Shingrix® claims is available on the Pacific Blue Cross website.

While the Samuels were too late to receive free coverage for the vaccine before they had a flare-up, they will be relieved to know that they are both eligible to receive the vaccine even many years later. Shingrix vaccine can prevent recurrence of shingles.

“I don’t even want to think about getting it again,” said Wally, who says he still has some lingering pain.

According to FNHA, requests for vaccine coverage for those under 65 years of age will be considered if submitted with supporting medical documentation from a primary care provider.

Clients over the age of 69 who have obtained the Shingrix® vaccine after September​ 1, 2020 can request reimbursement through the Health Benefits’ Client Reimbursement process. ​

If you have any questions, please call Health Benefits at 1-855-550-5454.

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