What is shingles?
Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus).
Read more about shingles.
How do you catch shingles?
You do not "catch" shingles – it comes on when there's a reactivation of chickenpox virus that's already in your body.
After you've recovered from chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus lies dormant in your nerve cells and can reactivate at a later stage when your immune system is weakened.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles.
Is shingles serious?
Yes, it can be. Not only can shingles be very painful and uncomfortable, some people are left with long-lasting pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) for years after the initial rash has healed.
Very occasionally, shingles can be fatal.
How common is shingles?
Around 1 in 5 people who have had chickenpox (usually in childhood) go on to develop shingles. That means that 10s of thousands of people in England and Wales will get shingles each year.
How is the shingles vaccine given?
As an injection into the upper arm.
Who can have the shingles vaccination?
Shingles vaccination is available to all people aged 70 or 78.
In addition, anyone who was previously eligible (born on or after 2 September 1942) but missed out on their shingles vaccination remains eligible until their 80th birthday.
When you're eligible, you can have the shingles vaccination at any time of year.
The shingles vaccine is not available on the NHS to anyone aged 80 or over because it seems to be less effective in this age group.
Read more about who can have the shingles vaccine.
How do I get the shingles vaccination?
Once you become eligible for the shingles vaccination, your doctor will take the opportunity to vaccinate you when you attend the surgery for general reasons, or for your annual flu vaccination.
You can have it at the same time as your flu jab in the autumn, if you wish.
If you are worried that you may miss out on the shingles vaccination, contact your GP surgery to arrange an appointment to have the vaccine.
Do you need to have the shingles vaccination every year?
No, it's a one-off injection.
Will there be any side effects from the shingles vaccination?
It's quite common to get redness and discomfort at the vaccination site, as well as headaches, but these side effects should not last more than a few days. See your GP if you have side effects that last longer than a few days, or if you develop a rash after having the shingles vaccination.
Read more about the side effects of the shingles vaccine.
What about people who are not 70 yet? Will they get the shingles vaccine?
People under the age of 70 will get the shingles vaccine during the year following their 70th birthday.
It's not available on the NHS to younger people because shingles is more common in the over-70s.
What about people who are not aged 70 or 78? Can they have the vaccine?
Anyone who was previously eligible for shingles vaccination but missed out can have the vaccine. This means:
- anyone in their 70s who was born after 2 September 1942
- anyone aged 79
The shingles vaccination programme is being staggered this way because it would be impractical to vaccinate everyone in their 70s in a single year.
Why can I not have the shingles vaccination if I'm over 80?
The vaccine does not work as well in people over the age of 80.
Who should not have the shingles vaccine?
You should not have the shingles vaccine if:
- you've had a serious allergic reaction, such as an anaphylactic reaction, in the past to any of its ingredients, such as neomycin – your GP can tell you if this applies to you
- you have a weakened immune system – your GP can advise you
Will the shingles vaccine stop me getting shingles?
It does not guarantee you will not get shingles, but it will reduce your chances.
If you do get shingles, the vaccine will likely make the symptoms milder and the illness shorter. You'll also be less likely to get shingles complications, such as post-herpetic neuralgia.
Do I need the shingles vaccine if I've never had chickenpox?
Yes. The chances are that you have had chickenpox at some point without knowing it. Some people have chickenpox without displaying any of the typical chickenpox symptoms, such as a rash.
Should I have the shingles vaccine if I've already had shingles?
Yes. The shingles vaccine works very well to boost your immunity against further shingles attacks in people who have had shingles before.
Can I get the shingles vaccine privately?
The shingles jab is available privately for anyone over the age of 50, but it's expensive and in very short supply. Expect to pay between £100 and £200.
Your GP can advise on whether it's safe for you to have, but you may need to visit a private clinic to arrange it.
Page last reviewed: 6 July 2018
Next review due: 6 July 2021