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Schumer calls on FDA to address shingles-vaccine shortage at CNY pharmacies

By Eric Reinhardt


U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) on Monday called on the essential staff at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to declare a shortage of the shingles vaccine “an emergency.” The Democrat on Monday held a news conference on the topic at Burnet Pharmacy 3056 Burnet Ave. in Syracuse. (Eric Reinhardt / BJNN)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) says he is concerned about what he calls an “alarming” shortage of the vaccine that combats shingles.

The Democrat wants the essential staff at the Silver Spring, Maryland–based U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to “consider this shortage an emergency,” his office said in a Monday news release.

The essential staff members are the employees that are still working despite the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Schumer on Monday addressed the topic during a visit to Burnet Pharmacy at 3056 Burnet Ave. in Syracuse, which Schumer said is among the area pharmacies that need their supply of the vaccine replenished.

“It’s not just here in Central New York. It’s throughout the country that there’s a shortage … in different parts of the country there’s a shortage of shingles vaccination,” he said.

If the FDA declares it an emergency, “they might be able to bring some workers back,” he added.

Schumer said in 2012 he helped approve a federal law that when there’s a shortage of a drug, the FDA would work with the pharmaceutical company involved to make sure that the impacted drug is available.

Under an emergency declaration, Schumer contends the FDA can work with the drug manufacturer and others to ensure that those impacted are aware of when the new shipments will arrive.

The agency can also “expedite regulatory hurdles,” Schumer said and prioritize shingles-vaccine shipments to New York and other states with higher populations.

“If the FDA would do this, we could solve this problem,” Schumer said. “This is a glaring example of the shutdown causing real problems.”

BJNN has sought reaction from the FDA, but its email response included the following language, “We are reviewing details of your request so that we can determine if your inquiry falls under an excepted or exempt category of work. If it does not fall into an excepted or exempted category, we will respond to your inquiry after enactment of either an FY 2019 appropriation or continuing resolution for the FDA.”

The vaccine, Shingrix, was approved last year to prevent shingles, per Schumer’s news release.

It has been in “high demand” since United Kingdom–based manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)(NYSE: GSK) started producing its shingles vaccine. It is “90 percent effective, while others were much less effective, as low as 40 percent,” Schumer’s office said.

The shortage of the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) shingles vaccine happened “because not enough was produced to meet the high demand for the uniquely effective vaccine,” per Schumer’s release.


About shingles

Shingles is an “extremely painful and debilitating” rash that can lead to “even more severe complications,” per Schumer’s release.

The virus (also called herpes zoster) occurs when the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) — the same virus that causes chickenpox — is reactivated in the body. The VZV remains in the body for life and older people are more susceptible to shingles because their immunity to the virus declines at the cellular level.

Aside from the painful rash, shingles can produce “typical” virus symptoms including chills, fever, upset stomach or headache and also spread communicable chickenpox.


Schumer on the government shutdown

Besides the vaccine shortage, Schumer also addressed the ongoing partial government shutdown, saying his view “is very simple.”

“People have different views on what’s good for border security. We all agree we need strong border security. But don’t shut down the government while we’re debating,” said Schumer.

When asked why Schumer was visiting Syracuse in the middle of the shutdown, the Democrat said he’s on the phone “constantly.”

“I’m going down [to Washington, D.C.] right from here, but I’m on the phone all the time,” he added.


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