Sen. Schumer Says Government Shutdown is Making Shingles Vaccine Shortage Worse

Jan 14, 2019

Sen. Chuck Schumer took a brief break from shutdown negotiations to stop at Burnet Pharmacy Monday to explain how the shutdown has affected the shingles vaccine. Behind him is Ahmad Hamad, RPh, owner of the pharmacy.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Senator Chuck Schumer wants an emergency declared…not on the southern border, but for a shortage of the shingles vaccine.  He stopped at Burnet Pharmacy today to explain the problem.

"Many, many pharmacies in Central New York are out of the shingles vaccination.  There is a shortage of this vaccinations.  Some places have a two week wait, but some places don't have it at all."

…including Burnet Pharmacy.  Shingles can be a debilitating disease for older adults that causes pain, rash, and other symptoms that can last for months.  Someone with shingles can pass along the chicken pox to young children.  A two-part vaccine called Shingrix was approved last year, and has been in high demand.  Schumer says a 2012 law he helped pass calls on the Food and Drug Administration to work with drug companies and pharmacies to ensure drugs are available in case of a shortage.

"So what's the problem?  It's called the government shutdown.  The FDA is closed.  When the authorities call up the FDA and say we have a real shortage of shingles shots, they say 'there's no one here to help.'"

Onondaga County AARP Legislative Director Bob O'Connor tells Sen. Schumer about his trouble getting a shingles vaccine. The wait at his pharmacy is now 6 months.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Schumer says if the FDA declared an emergency, employees could return to work to help expedite regulatory hurdles for the drug company.  The agency could also tell states and pharmacies with enough inventory to ship part of it to areas facing a shortage.  Onondaga County AARP legislative director Bob O'Connor knows the problem firsthand.

"I called up one of the local pharmacies last October to see if I could get the new shot.  They said, yeah you can, but it's a three month wait.  I called the same pharmacy last week, and they said the wait is now six months."


Meanwhile, the partial government shutdown continues with no end in sight.  Schumer was heading back to Washington and stands ready to negotiate a deal to re-open the government and address border security.  He says he supports Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposal to the President.

"We open up the government for a month, and then see if we can come to an agreement during that month.  If we didn't, he said the president would have the option of [declaring a national] emergency.  I don't like the emergency, but I think opening up the government is a good first step."

But, President Trump has rejected Graham’s proposal.  Schumer, who is also Senate Minority Leader, says he talked to 20 senators by phone over the weekend, and says he’s constantly making and taking calls hoping to make progress. 

"It's up to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, who has said he won't put anything on the floor the president doesn't approve.  But a whole bunch of republican senators, like 6 or 7, are saying open up the government and then debate security, like we have said."

He’s just not sure what to expect if they meet again with the President…

"We didn't walk out of the meeting on Friday.  There should be middle ground, but the government shouldn't be shut down while we debate it."

Schumer says neither side should shut down the government as a pretext to getting what they want.