GlaxoSmithKline debuts DTC campaign for Shingrix amid COVID-19-related vaccination dive

GlaxoSmithKline has officially launched its first DTC campaign for shingles vaccine Shingrix. Its pitch? No matter how healthy or active older adults may be, the varicella-zoster virus doesn't care.

The reality-check message comes as GSK supplies of the vaccine are plentiful for the first time since its 2017 launch. GSK once struggled to make enough Shingrix to handle exploding demand, but thanks to the the COVID-19 pandemic, adult vaccinations dropped and supplies rebounded.

The DTC campaign “Shingles Doesn't Care" is targeted at people aged 50 and older. One in three people in that demographic will get the painful itchy rash—typically caused when the varicella virus, which also causes chickenpox, reactivates years later—during their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Shingrix sales plummeted by half in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the first. GSK said during a July investor call that lockdown measures cut doctor visits and dropped vaccination rates, particularly in the U.S. GSK’s overall vaccine business saw a year-over-year decline of 29%.

RELATED: GSK's Shingrix supply recovers thanks to drop in vaccinations, uninterrupted production

GSK didn't comment on the Shingrix campaign timing, but one likely reason the company didn't launch Shingrix DTC earlier was that it couldn’t keep pace with the demand it already had.

On the non-branded side, GSK has an ongoing shingles awareness online campaign centered on a website that features five patient ambassadors who detail their stories of excruciating shingles pain and the lingering effects of the illness. One entrepreneur and dad, Steve, talks about how the two-week ordeal shocked him and his family—so much so that his business partner and brother both went out immediately and got vaccinated.

Shingrix was approved in 2017 and has owned the shingles vaccination market since then. But Merck & Co., which launched the first shingles shot, Zostavax, in 2006, laid the groundwork in the market. Merck's concerted disease awareness efforts featured retired NFL star Terry Bradshaw, and the company later fielded a DTC campaign.

RELATED: Shingrix crashes for GlaxoSmithKline as vaccination slows amid COVID-19

However, Zostavax tanked its DTC efforts in October 2017 after Shingrix nabbed preferred status from the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The company had already stopped awareness efforts in 2016. The last recorded revenue for Zostavax was in 2018, at $217 million in annual sales, only $22 million of that in the U.S.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to differentiate between the Shingrix branded TV ad and the GSK shingles disease awareness campaign.