Vaccinations

Shingles vaccination

A vaccine to prevent shingles, a common, painful skin disease is available on the NHS to certain people in their 70s.

The shingles vaccine is given as a single injection for people aged 70 or 79. Unlike the flu jab, you'll only need to have the vaccination once and you can have it at any time of the year.

The shingles vaccine is expected to reduce your risk of getting shingles. If you are unlucky enough to go on to have the disease, your symptoms may be milder and the illness shorter.

Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable. Some people are left with pain lasting for years after the initial rash has healed. And shingles is fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop it.

It's fine to have the shingles vaccine if you've already had shingles. The shingles vaccine works very well in people who have had shingles before and it will boost your immunity against further shingles attacks.

What is shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus) in people who have previously had chickenpox.

It begins with a burning sensation in the skin, followed by a rash of very painful fluid-filled blisters that can then burst and turn into sores before healing. Often an area on just one side of the body is affected, usually the chest but sometimes the head, face and eye.

Read more about the symptoms of shingles.

Who can have the shingles vaccination?

Shingles vaccination is offered routinely as part of the NHS vaccination programme for people aged 70 or 79. You become eligible for the vaccine on the first day of September after you've turned 70 or 79 and remains so until the last day of August the following year.

You can have the shingles vaccination at any time of year, though many people will find it convenient to have the vaccine at the same time as their annual flu vaccination.

If you are aged between 71 and 78 on the 1st September 2014 you will become eligible for the shingles vaccine on the 1st September after your 79th birthday.

What is the brand name of the shingles vaccine?

The brand name of the shingles vaccine given in the UK is Zostavax. It can be given at any time of the year.

Read more about who can have the shingles vaccine.

How is the shingles vaccine given?

As an injection into the upper arm.

How does the shingles vaccine work?

The vaccine contains a weakened chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus). It's similar, but not identical to, the chickenpox vaccine.

Very occasionally, people have developed a chickenpox-like illness following shingles vaccination (fewer than 1 in 10,000 individuals).

How long will the shingles vaccine protect me for?

It's difficult to be precise, but research to date suggests the shingles vaccine will protect you for at least three years, probably longer.

How safe is the shingles vaccine?

There is lots of evidence showing that the new shingles vaccine is very safe. It's already been used in several countries, including the US and Canada, and no safety concerns have been raised. The vaccine also has few side effects.

Read more about shingles vaccine side effects.

How is shingles spread?

You don't "catch" shingles – it comes on when there's a reawakening of chickenpox virus that's already in your body. The virus can be reactivated because of advancing age, medication, illness or stress and so on.

Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. It's estimated that around one in five people who have had chickenpox go on to develop shingles.

Read more about the causes of shingles.

Who's most at risk of shingles?

People tend to get shingles more often as they get older, especially over the age of  70. And the older you are, the worse it can be. The shingles rash can be extremely painful, such that sufferers can't even bear the feeling of their clothes touching the affected skin.

The pain of shingles can also linger long after the rash has disappeared, even for many years. This lingering pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Read more about the complications of shingles.

Read the answers to some of the common questions about the shingles vaccine.

Page last reviewed: 16/07/2013

Next review due: 16/07/2015

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The 28 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

miss_p1985 said on 23 July 2014

I am 28 and have suffered with shingles since I was 17, generally it shows itself about once a year, sometimes I've had it as often as 3 times in 1 year. Do I really have to wait until I am 71 years old for a vaccination? I get that its a cost but shingles holds me back, it makes me anxious whenever I go through a stressful period, meaning I will not put myself forward for more senior job roles, shingles is stopping me be the person I want to be.

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Ancientmariner said on 12 June 2014

The pus-filled blisters are not mandatory as some people will just have a salmon pink rash. If touched the rash will feel numb but the adjacent skin may feel highly sensitive and sore. The soreness does travel across both sides of the chest eventually but the site where the pain originally began will usually be more sensitive. The discomfort may also travel to different parts of the body such as the back of the neck.

The good news is that the chest pain is not a heart attack.

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Anjilamb said on 28 May 2014

I had a severe case of shingles commencing 26 October 2012 aged 74 it lasted 10 weeks with a further 3 months postherpetic neuralgia. I t was the worst pain I have ever had in my life & I would dearly love to have the new vaccination to prevent a repeat but I now learn I must wait until I am 79. What is the NHS thinking of to deny vulnerable pensioners this protection. I was lucky to be in good health prior to my attack I dread to think of the outcome if I had had any other serious ailments. I intend to protest to my local patients body

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DickT said on 04 March 2014

At age 75, I have been told I am not able to get a Shingles Vaccination. Why has NHS money been spent advertising the availability of Shingles Vaccine, when a limitation to our statutory rights has been inserted? Both my parents had shingles at the age I am now, and it was clearly a painful condition.
I understand the vaccine is relatively expensive, but, like so many, my taxes over a lifetime of work have supported the NHS, so how do you justify refusal, when NICE have recommended the vaccine for my age group.

I consider I have been illegally discriminated against and I resent it.

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Whitrigg said on 27 January 2014

I did try again on Wednesday 22/1 and still it hasn't appeared although my earlier complaint did - so what is going on?

Whitrigg

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 10 January 2014

Whitrigg - we've checked and you don't seem to have been blocked. Please try again.
Best wishes,

Kathryn, NHS Choices editor

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Whitrigg said on 09 January 2014

I sought to put my views on this into the system on Tuesday 7/1/14 but they appear to have been blocked - why?

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Fung Yee said on 27 November 2013

Can someone explain to me why the vaccines is only offer to people age 71 or 79, what happen to protection of the elderly people age 72-78?


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Ginger Nut said on 11 November 2013

Just phoned to make an appointment to be told they have run out of vaccine and that I am not eligible as the ages for vaccination this year are 71 and 79! So what happens when they discover next year that I should have had it this year. (I was 70 in February)

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Celia Mary said on 06 November 2013

Why 70 OR 79?
Why is this choice of ages left unexplained?

I turned 71 in January 2013. Why do I have to wait till the so-called "catch-up point" of 79?
What is meant by "catch-up" point?
Does it mean that nobody in their eighties will have the vaccine? The information doesn't say so, merely leaves it to be inferred.

The information above begins by saying that people in their seventies can have the vaccine. Then it says that those aged 70 OR 79 can have it - not the same thing. This sloppy use of language has persisted since the vaccine was first announced.

Celia Mary

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Zylpha said on 27 October 2013

I was 74 on September 1st this year, so will not be able to have this vaccine for another 5 years.

My husband, a cancer patient, is 72 so will not be able to have his vaccine for another 7 years.

Why should some seniors qualify for this health protection and others not? It is grossly unfair to discriminate in this way.

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irobrh said on 20 October 2013

The opening sentence of this page says 'A vaccine to prevent shingles, a common, painful skin disease is now available on the NHS to people in their 70s.' From what follows it is clear that this is untrue. Since I turned 71 in July I will have to wait another eight years, presumably at increasing risk of this 'common, painful skin disease'.

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OldGeezer said on 17 October 2013

So what have we been paying for all these years? Having worked and contributed to our sacred welfare system ever since graduation in 1967 - never claiming sick pay nor unemployment benefit - and still working "part time" some 20-35 hours a week at present - - - I find that I am disqualified from Shingles vaccination until I reach the age of 79 ( assuming I should survive that long).
I have no idea where NICE ( there's an ironic name for thee!) are coming from - the cost:benefit in financial terms must be in favour of vaccination against long term treatment of PHD, let alone in human welfare terms.

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Barrel said on 16 October 2013

I agree with Parient9. I rang my GP surgery for the 3rd time today for an appt. having received an eligibility letter weeks ago to be told to keep trying until supplies come back. They have no idea when that will be and told me to ring every week.

Why go to the cost of sending out eligibility letters persuading people to have the vaccination when they cannot then fulfill their obligations.
So much for NHS promises.

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rlbraban said on 14 October 2013

Seeing this vaccine on every street corner in the USA I was prompted to contact my GP only to be given the 70 and 79 age specifics. I have read through the FAQ replies on this site and the most frequently asked question viz: "Why have these ages been specified"? is not included. Could I ask specifically "Why have these ages been chosen"?

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YOUGETME said on 08 October 2013

I am extremely concerned to discover that the intention for all adults between 70 and 79 years of age being entitled to receive this vaccine is no longer the case. It was originally announced that it would be for everyone in this group age.

This preventive vaccine is so important yet it is now claimed that there is a shortage and only a very small group will be eligible namely either a 70 or 79 year old.

Yes it is an expensive vaccine but there is no shortage in the USA where every corner pharmacist has it available. So it does seem to come down to costs and the Department of Health not wanting to order all of the required amount.

Older people are always being told they are the biggest users of the NHS so it surely has to be a cost-effective way to provide this vaccine. It will help contribute to minimising the visits to surgeries of sufferers and those who experience the nasty after effects of having had shingles.

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featherbugs said on 05 October 2013

I visited my doctors this morning for my annual flu jab. Whilst there I enquired about the vaccination for Shingles to be told that as I was 71 in December 2012, I did not come under the guidelines for the injection for 2013 . Having suffered the pain of shingles twice. Do the powers that be think I will not get it again until I am 79.I was told that last year this vaccination was available to people in there 70 and this rule has just been instigated in 2013. Which begs the question, why did the doctors surgery not identify patients in their practice who had suffered from shingles to offer them the chance of this vaccination.

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parient9 said on 03 October 2013

Can anyone elaborate on "due to delivery issues" (j.harrison5, below) I phoned my surgery yesterday (2nd Oct) and was told their supply has been used up. It sounded like a funding issue to me.
Is this vaccination service funded from the surgery budget or does the NHS pay. Either way, all the surgery would say was phone again in a week or two but she didn't sound optimistic.
Is this another bungle in the making?

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j.harrison5@nhs.net said on 01 October 2013

Everyone reading this article may wish to know that Public Health England has now suspended all deliveries of the shingles vaccines to GP surgeries, due to delivery issues.

Even if you are eligible you may not get your vaccine any time soon. Deliveries are due to resume in November.

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Ted Roger said on 28 September 2013

Surely selecting those aged 70 or 79 amounts to age discrimination!
I can understand not being able to vaccinate all in the 70 to 79 age group at once is not practical. Why couldn't vaccination be carried out on a progressive basis like increasing retirement age as an example.
I am 71 so will have to wait 8 years before I qualify - I can't afford to pay for it privately.

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millieanne13 said on 26 September 2013

Who didn't think this through? Absolutely typical of NHS thinking, or rather not thinking.
The Press from the Press Association was reported by Daily Mail, and Nursing Times
1. Daily Mail reported this as People in their 70s will be offered the shingles vaccine on the NHS from today.The new campaign targets those aged 70 to 79. It is estimated 800,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in the first year.
2. Shingles jab to be given to all OAPs in their 70s
Every pensioner in Britain could be given a shingles jab on the NHS under government plans, it has emerged.
Up to 4.5 million OAPs aged in their 70s could be given the free vaccination from next year.

The Department of Health (DoH) confirmed the plans on Friday following advice from the advisory panel on immunisation.

Around one in four adults, mainly the elderly, will develop shingles, a painful condition caused by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus.

While they can cause burning rash, headache and muscle pain for up to four weeks as the immune system weakens, debilitating nerve pain often persists for months.

The lingering pain from shingles is known as postherpetic neuralgia. The virus lies dormant in the spine following recovery from chickenpox.

Boots web site
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.

As it appears that not only was it known about last year, enough to be reported, the NHS surely could have made sure that there was enough vaccine to fulfill what was being promised.
So it's all right if you are 70 or exactly 79, but tough bananas if you are 72 to 78 because someone didn't think this through. This is a PR disaster. Who is responsible? as whoever is, didn't refute the press reports and the press release wasn't the clearest that I have ever read.

You must do better

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hollybankx2 said on 18 September 2013

Side effects? shivers, slight headache and restless in bed?

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User802884 said on 11 September 2013

I commend the NHS for offering this vaccine (not to mention many other services available to us). My usually sprightly father in his 80s who lives abroad has just developed severe painful shingles and I wish he'd been made aware to get vaccinated, albeit privately.

I agree with User80911 and would urge everyone in this age category took take this opportunity to protect themselves and get vaccinated.

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User801911 said on 07 September 2013

It is possible to have the vaccination privately, not cheap but what price one's own health. If you are over 50 or any year not covered by the NHS - 70 or 79, what's that all about?

I found it easy to find a private GP to go to. Sorry for the lady who has to pick up her granddaughter but I do think that sometimes we have to take responsibility for our own health and make the relevant arrangements. She is lucky to fall into the catchment age group, it seems silly not to take advantage of the opportunity.

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 04 September 2013

weary patient:
Your surgery certainly doesn't sound very helpful! It would be a shame to miss out on this vaccine, though. Why not try again to see if you can be given an alternative slot.
I'd also urge you to give feedback on your experience of your GP surgery here: http://www.nhs.uk/servicedirectories/Pages/HospitalCommentInput.aspx?servicetype=hospital&searchtype=hospitalcommentsearch
Kind regards,
Kathryn Bingham, NHS Choices editor

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weary patient said on 03 September 2013

what a farce!! I received my letter and leaflet from my GP but when I rang to make an appointment i was told that the nurse is only doing the vaccination one 1 afternoon this clashes with picking up my granddaughter from school so I cannot have the vaccination, as they are only ordering the vaccine for the number of appointments on that afternoon. Another fine example of the caring profession!

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 13 August 2013

Dear kenny d
Yes, you can have the shingles vaccine providing you are still aged 70 on September 1st 2013.
It works well in people who have had shingles before and will boost your immunity against future attacks.
Thanks,
Kathryn Bingham, NHS Choices editor

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kenny d said on 12 August 2013

I currently have shingles, 3 plus weeks. Can I get the vaccine when it is available to negate or help my condition. I am 70

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Shingles

Find out about shingles, a painful condition caused by the chickenpox virus

Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a mild and common illness that most children catch at some point...

Chickenpox vaccine

Find out about the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine for vulnerable children and adults

Shingles

Shingles is a viral infection of a nerve and the area of skin around it. A GP describes causes, symptoms and treatment options for shingles.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015