What is shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus).
How do you catch shingles?
You don't "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 one in five people who have had chickenpox (usually in childhood) go on to develop shingles. That means that tens of thousands of people in England and Wales will get shingles each year.
How is the shingles vaccine given?
It's given as an injection into the upper arm.
Who will be able to have the shingles vaccination?
It is available to all 70-year-olds and to 78-year-olds too.
People who were eligible for immunisation in the previous three years of the programme but have not yet been vaccinated against shingles also remain eligible until their 80th birthday. These are people:
- in their 70s who were born after 1 September 1942
- aged 79
Anyone aged 80 and over is unsuitable to have the shingles vaccination on the NHS because it seems to be less effective in this age group.
How do I get the shingles vaccination?
You don't need to do anything. Your GP will invite you to the surgery for the vaccination. You can have it at the same time as your flu jab in the autumn if you wish.
Do you need to have the shingles vaccination every year?
No, it's a one-off single 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 shouldn't 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.
What about people who aren't yet 70? 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 aged 74 to 77. Can they have the vaccine?
Not at the moment. The shingles vaccine is available on the NHS only for people aged 70 and 78 on or after 1 April 2017 (and to people aged 79 or those in their 70s who were born after 1 September 1942 who haven't been vaccinated yet).
The shingles vaccination programme is being staggered this way as it would be impractical to vaccinate everyone in their 70s in a single year.
Why can't I have the shingles vaccination if I'm over 80?
The vaccine doesn't work as well in people over the age of 80.
Which people shouldn't have the shingles vaccine?
You shouldn't 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 (again, your GP can advise you)
Will the shingles vaccine stop me getting shingles?
It won't guarantee that you won't get shingles, but it will reduce your chances. And, 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 postherpetic 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 like rash.
Should I have the shingles vaccine if I've already had shingles?
Yes. The shingles vaccine works very well in people who have had shingles before to boost your immunity against further shingles attacks.