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 post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) for years after the initial rash has healed.
Very rarely, shingles or complications from it 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 everyone aged 70 to 79.
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, a GP or practice nurse will offer you the vaccine when you attend the surgery for general reasons.
You can have a shingles vaccine at the same time as most other vaccines. But try to leave 7 days between the shingles vaccine and a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, so that if you have any side effects you'll know which vaccine they were from.
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, you will not need a booster.
Will there be any side effects from the shingles vaccination?
There are 2 shingles vaccines: Zostavax (a live vaccine) and Shingrix (a non-live vaccine).
With both vaccines it's quite common to get redness and discomfort at the vaccination site, headaches and fatigue, but these side effects should not last more than a few days. See a 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 shingles vaccine side effects.
What about people who are not 70 yet? Will they get the shingles vaccine?
The shingles vaccine is not available on the NHS to younger people because shingles is more common in the over-70s.
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 (including an anaphylactic reaction) in the past to a previous dose of the shingles vaccine, or to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, or to a previous dose of varicella (chickenpox) vaccine.
If you have a weakened immune system a GP or practice nurse will assess which vaccine is suitable for you. Discuss any health concerns with the GP or practice nurse before you have the vaccine.
Zostavax is not suitable for people who have a weakened immune system due to a condition, treatment or medicine.
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 is likely to 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.
A GP will tell you how long to wait after you recover from shingles before having the shingles vaccine. This may be up to 1 year.
Can I get the shingles vaccine privately?
The shingles vaccine is available privately, but it's expensive. You would need to discuss with the clinic whether the vaccine is suitable for you.
Page last reviewed: 31 August 2021
Next review due: 31 August 2024