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A second vaccine now available in the UK

Some people will be glad to learn that a second vaccine to prevent shingles in people over 50 is now available in the UK. Currently people aged 70 to 79 years can get a one-dose vaccine to prevent shingles, called Zostavax, from their GPs. Also, people over 18 years who are at increased risk of shingles can be prescribed a vaccine.

Now, a second kind of vaccine, called Shingrix, is suitable for people who cannot have Zostavax. It will be prescribed by GPs to people in their 70s.

These vaccines are also available privately to anyone 50 or over, who wishes to pay.

Photo of a Shingles rash.

Shingles is the name given to a repeat outbreak of chickenpox. Whilst chickenpox causes blisters over the whole body, shingles will only affect a small area on one side of the of the body – a dermatome – usually on the torso or face. In the UK, 90% of adults have had chickenpox so all of them could develop shingles.

Shingles can be very painful. This pain is described as burning, shooting, stabbing or even constant unbearable itching. It does not happen to everyone, and it may only last for a few weeks, but some people can experience pain for months, or longer, and shingles pain is very difficult to treat.

The new shingles vaccine

Marian Nicholson, director of the Shingles Support Society says “The possibility of long-term pain increases as you get older.. This why we encourage people to get vaccinated against shingles. If you are in your 70s, be sure to ask for Zostavax. However, for people who cannot have that vaccine, we welcome any new options to help prevent shingles and the associated pain.”

“Shingrix” from GSK (GlaxoSmithKline plc) is a two-dose vaccine, This new two-dose vaccine against shingles is slightly more effective than Zostavax, both at avoiding an outbreak of shingles and in preventing post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), the name given to the long-term pain that could occur.

The NHS will be able to prescribe it to people from 70 to 79 years who cannot have the usual Zostavax vaccine because of being immunocompromised.

Buy shingles vaccines privately

People over 50 are allowed to buy shingles vaccines privately. You may find them available at various pharmacy chains, private GP clinics and other healthcare settings where a service is set-up.

The risk of VZV (varicella-zoster virus – this is the name of the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles) reactivating and causing shingles increases with advancing age, particularly in adults 50 years of age or older.5,6 This is because as we get older there is a decline in our immune system’s ability to prevent and fight infection. The lifetime risk of developing shingles is 1 in 4.

Page edited on 6-3-2023.