Almost a million more people (900,000) will become eligible for a shingles vaccination from September, the NHS announced today.
Anyone who is severely immunosuppressed and over 50 will be able to get two doses of the Shingrix vaccine – currently the vaccine is only available to those over 70.
From 1 September 2023, those turning 65 and 70 will also be able to get the vaccine after their birthday, in addition to those already aged 70-80. Patients will be contacted by their GP practice when they become eligible.
Eligibility will then be expanded to include those 60 and up by September 2033.
The change comes on the back of the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommending that the Shingrix vaccine should be extended to a wider cohort of people, after trials showed the vaccine was highly effective and safe for these groups.
Shingles can occur at any age, but the risk and severity of shingles and its complications increase with age and is higher in individuals who have a severely weakened immune system.
Shingles cannot be caught from other people. Instead, it develops in people who have previously been infected with chickenpox over their lifetime. Chickenpox can appear quite mildly in people so many will be unaware if they have been infected in the past, but studies show that nearly every adult has had the virus.
At least nine in 10 adults are already infected with the virus that causes Shingles, having had chickenpox as children, and around one in four people will go on to develop Shingles in their lifetime – the risk of this increases with age.
Some cases can result in serious symptoms such as blindness, hearing loss, nerve pain and potentially death, however the vaccine can significantly reduce the risk of people developing shingles and experiencing nasty symptoms.
GPs and practice nurses may also offer the vaccines opportunistically, such as during routine visits or check-ups, to make it as easy as possible for patients to get the jab. Chickenpox can also appear mildly in some so some might think they have never had it, but it is vital that anyone eligible, even if you think you may not be at risk, gets the vaccine.
National Director of Vaccinations and Screening at NHS England, Steve Russell, said: “While the country has been focused on the NHS’s successful Covid and flu vaccine programmes, there remain other preventable illnesses like Shingles which can be fatal to those most at risk.
“With a quarter of people getting Shingles in their lifetime, and with it being one of the few conditions that cannot achieve herd immunity, the expansion of the programme will provide peace of mind to hundreds of thousands and save lives.
“So please do not put off getting the jab if you are eligible, there are many chances to get the vaccine and those eligible could also be given many opportunities to quickly get your jab during routine visits to GP practices.”
Anyone who has already been vaccinated against shingles, and received the Zostavax vaccine, does not need re-vaccination with Shingrix, and immunocompromised individuals who have already received 2 doses of Shingrix® do not need re-vaccination.
For those that are immunocompromised, the gap between doses is from 8 weeks to 6 months. For those that are immunocompetent the gap is 6 to 12 months.
Shingles is spread by the virus “reawakening” in your body following a chickenpox infection at any point in your life – it is typically reactivated in older age, or by certain medicines, illness or stress.
The rash developed by the illness can be extremely painful and the pain can remain for many years after the rash has disappeared.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Director of Immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Shingles is an extremely painful condition and complications can be long-lasting. Older people and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable. A newly available vaccine, Shingrix, is being offered on the NHS from September to those aged 65 and 70 years, and to those with severely weakened immune systems from 50 years of age.
“Two doses of vaccine are highly effective in reducing your risk of getting shingles, or if you do develop shingles, reduce the severity of your symptoms. I strongly urge all those eligible to protect themselves by taking up the offer of a vaccine when they are contacted by their GP.”
Marian Nicholson, director of the Shingles Support Society, said: “We get calls or emails all the time from people who are now suffering the painful after effects of shingles.”
Janne Mills, 60, from Wakefield, urges people to come forward to get their jabs after struggling with the illness.
She said: “I suffer from recurring bouts of shingles whenever my immunity is low. The pain is unlike any other you will know – Imagine a cactus plant stabbing you again and again for hours and days on end.
“With a pain level between 8 and 10. Living with shingles can impact on your life, both physically and mentally. “
Jan Fisher, 75, from Norfolk, contracted shingles and developed complications with the condition and would take the vaccine to prevent issues.
She added: “The active shingles virus was extremely painful and itchy as well as making me feel unwell and very tired.
“Unfortunately, I went on to develop postherpetic neuralgia, which I still have over 15 years later. If I could’ve have the vaccine to reduce the likelihood of ever having shingles, knowing what I know now, I would’ve jumped at the chance.”
Fiona Hazell, Chair of the Blood Cancer Alliance and CEO of Leukaemia UK said: “We welcome the news that those living with blood cancers will soon be able to get the shingles vaccine from age 50 instead of 70 as it means more people will be able to get protected against this debilitating disease sooner.
“If you are living with blood cancer, you are likely to have a weakened immune system which means you are more likely to develop shingles and experience more serious side effects. It is important to get all the protection you can and get your shingles vaccine as soon as you become eligible.”