Is there a shingles vaccine?
There is a vaccine against the varicella virus which has been used routinely in the USA since 1996 to protect children against chickenpox. It is not given routinely in the UK but is available for prescription on the NHS if the doctor thinks it is needed. The vaccine has reduced the incidence of chickenpox in the USA. If fewer people get chickenpox, then fewer people will get shingles later in life.
What about immunisation for older people?
The vaccine against the varicella-zoster virus has been shown in large studies to be effective in reducing the risk of older people developing shingles. The vaccine has been shown to be safe with very few side-effects.
In the UK, there is an NHS shingles vaccination programme for people in their 70s. The programme began in September 2013. The shingles vaccine is a one-off injection, given in your upper arm, usually by your practice nurse. Currently, you can have the shingles vaccination if you were aged 70, 71, 72, 73, 78 or 79 on 1 September 2016. You cannot have the injection on the NHS after your 80th birthday.
The vaccine can also be given to people over the age of 50 by private providers, such as chemists, if you wish to be protected from shingles but are not eligible for the NHS programme.
Most people do not get side-effects from the vaccine but you may get a red, sore or itchy area around the injection site. Some people may feel some other side-effects, such as a temperature, aches and pains, a rash or headache. Other side-effects are rare.
Other than the vaccine, there is no way of preventing shingles for somebody who has had chickenpox in the past.
Further reading and references
Immunisation against infectious disease - the Green Book (latest edition); Public Health England
Gagliardi AM, Andriolo BN, Torloni MR, et al; Vaccines for preventing herpes zoster in older adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Mar 33:CD008858. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008858.pub3.
Who is eligible for the shingles vaccine beyond 2016; Public Health England
Cohen JI; Clinical practice: Herpes zoster. N Engl J Med. 2013 Jul 18369(3):255-63. doi: 10.1056/NEJMcp1302674.
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