What’s on the Horizon for Public Health

by Marcia Schroeder, RN Horizon Public Health 

I stumbled upon information I feel is too important not to share. You may know one of my nursing duties at Horizon Public Health is giving immunizations. So, when I saw an article titled “Medicare and Medicaid Now Fully Cover Preventive Vaccines” (for older adults) I was thrilled. Congress eliminated cost-sharing for all vaccines covered under Medicare Part D, as of Jan. 1, 2023.

Before Jan. 1, vaccines were covered in different ways under parts B and D. Part B vaccines have been cost free.  These include annual influenza, pneumococcal and COVID-19 shots. Hepatitis B vaccine has also been covered for those who have a risk factor for contracting the Hep B virus. Part D vaccines include Tdap or Tetanus, diphtheria and Pertussis (whopping cough) and the shingles vaccine. Generally, with Part D coverage, people had to share the cost through co-payments, coinsurance or other expenses. Now as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, Part D vaccines are treated on the same cost-free basis as those under Part B. Although we all need a tetanus booster every ten years, the most exciting part of this information is that Medicare now pays for the shingles vaccine, Shingrix.

Shingrix is a two dose vaccine, with the second dose given 2 to 6 months after the first. It is safe and more than 90% effective at keeping you from getting shingles.

Shingles is a viral infection that brings on a painful skin rash and blisters. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus responsible for chickenpox. So if you have ever had chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus lies inactive in your nerve cells. Shingles will affect about 1 out of every 3 people in the United States. Your risk of developing shingles, and its complications, increases with age. Most people who develop shingles will only have it one time, but it is possible to get it more than once. There is no cure for shingles, however, early treatment including antiviral medications may help speed up the recovery and decrease your risk for complications including nerve damage. Complications can include long-term pain even after the blisters have cleared, pneumonia, hearing problems, brain inflammation or bacterial skin infection. The only way to prevent shingles is through vaccination with Shingrix.

The Center for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends adults 50 and older receive the influenza, shingles, Tdap and COVID-19 vaccines. When you reach 65 years old they add the pneumococcal vaccine. Now, all these adult vaccinations are fully covered through Medicare Part B and D.

Be sure to discuss your adult vaccination needs with your healthcare provider. Recommendations can vary depending on your overall health and medical conditions.