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Merck Hangs Out The Shingle

I spent my 30th birthday in bed with the chicken pox. In addition to the high fever and spots that kept me in bed (when I wasn't taking Aveeno baths) for the better part of a week, I actually stayed out of work at WXYZ-TV in Detroit for a total of three weeks because the bumps all over my face made it impossible to shave. I had an ugly, scruffy beard and there was NO way I was going on TV looking like that. It was a miserable experience having chicken pox as an adult. And, at the time, it only made hitting the milestone of the big 3-0 all the worse. So, I can empathize with people who get the return of chicken pox in the form of shingles, which I've been told are much, much worse.

Recently, Merck came out with the first vaccine for shingles called Zostavax. But it had manufacturing and supply issues that hurt the launch. In its earnings press release today, Merck says as of last month it has "resumed normal shipping schedules for Zostavax."

Second-quarter sales of Zostavax in the U.S. were down 36 percent from the same time last year because of the problems. But now that they're apparently solved MRK has kicked off its branded marketing campaign for the vaccine.

There's this websiteand I've noticed big ads in "Parade" magazine over the past couple of weeks. That's the fluffy publication that typically gets inserted into Sunday papers all over the country. Both the website and the magazine ad feature graphic pictures of shingles like this one.

Shingles image from Zostavax.com
Source: zostavax.com
Shingles image from Zostavax.com

But it's not the photos that strike me the most.

It's the safety information.

As the ad and the website prominently states, "ZOSTAVAX is a vaccine that can help prevent shingles in adults 60 years of age or older."

However, a few paragraphs later the text warns, "You should not get ZOSTAVAX if you are...pregnant or plan to become pregnant."

Okay, I know it's not unheard of for someone over 60 to get pregnant, but c'mon.

When I tweetedabout it a few days ago, one of my followers replied that it's, as he put it, "a CYA."

When I reach that age, I imagine I'll get a shingles vaccine.

I just hope I don't get the malady before then. The chicken pox at 30 was bad enough, thank you.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman