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Shingles vaccination programme begins

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

2nd September 2013 - People in their 70s throughout the UK are to be offered a vaccination against shingles from this month. Find out why is it being recommended and who is eligible for the jab in our FAQs.

What is shingles?

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is an infection of a nerve and the area of skin around it.

You don't 'catch' shingles - it is caused by the reactivation of chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus) that is already in your body.

In serious cases, it causes a rash of very painful, fluid-filled blisters on the skin that can burst and turn into sores that eventually crust over and heal.

Shingles is a debilitating condition, which occurs more frequently and tends to be more severe in older people. It is estimated that around 250,000 people are affected in England and Wales each year, including 30,000 people in their 70s. Around one in 1,000 people over 70 who get shingles dies of the infection.

Who will be offered the jab?

From September, everyone aged 70 in the UK will be eligible for vaccination. That means those born between 2nd September 1942 and 1st September 1943 inclusive will be eligible for a free jab on the NHS.

A 'catch up' programme also begins this month, starting with those aged 79. Those born between 2nd September 1933 and 1st September 1934 inclusive will be eligible.

What about other people in their 70s?

A decision was made to target vaccination at people in their 70s because they are at high risk, and efficacy of the vaccine declines at older ages. Initially the vaccine will be limited to those aged 70 and 79 because the manufacturers of the vaccine, called Zostavax, can only supply 800,000 doses for the time being.

For now, anyone in between these ages must wait until they turn 79 before they can have the jab. When more vaccine supplies are available, the NHS will offer vaccination to all those aged 70 to 79 . Once the catch up programme is complete, the vaccine will be offered routinely to everyone as they turn 70.

I am over 80 - can I have the shingles vaccine?

No. The effectiveness of the vaccine declines with age and so it is not recommended for people aged 80 years or older.

Where is the vaccination given and will I need one every year?

Most people will have the vaccine at their GP surgery.

The vaccine will be given in your upper arm.

You only need one vaccination; you do not need it every year.

Will the shingles vaccine stop me getting shingles?

The vaccine is not a guarantee that you will not get shingles, but it will reduce your chances.

Also, if you do get shingles, the vaccine will probably make the symptoms milder and the illness shorter. You will also be less likely to get shingles complications such as prolonged nerve pain ( postherpetic neuralgia).

Are there any side effects from the shingles jab?

It is quite common to experience redness and discomfort at the vaccination site as well as headaches. However, these side effects should not last more than a few days.

If the side effects last for more than a few days you should discuss this with your GP or practice nurse.

Reviewed on April 30, 2013

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