Shingles is a painful infection that usually affects older people. In Northern Ireland there is a vaccination programme which can protect older people against shingles. You get the vaccine from your GP.
It is an infection of a nerve and the area of skin around it.
It can cause a rash of painful, fluid-filled blisters on the skin that can burst and become sores that eventually crust over and heal.
In serious cases, the pain can last longer.
The older you are, the more likely you are to have long-lasting pain.
Getting the vaccine
By having the shingles vaccine, you cut the risk of developing shingles.
If you get shingles later, the symptoms will be milder and the illness will be shorter than if you didn't have the vaccination.
You get the vaccine in your upper arm. Most people will need two doses, usually at least six months apart.
If you have a weakened immune system, then your second dose should be at least two months after your first dose.
People who are eligible for the vaccine
Your GP will contact you and invite you for vaccination if you are in any of the following groups:
- aged 65 on 1 September 2023
- aged 70 on 1 September 2023
- aged 50 or over on 1 September 2023 and have a severely weakened immune system
You are still eligible for the vaccine during 2023 and 2024 if you haven't already received the vaccine and are aged between 71 and 79 (born between 2 September 1943 and 1 September 1953).
If you fall into the group above you need to ask your GP for the vaccine.
People aged 80 or over
The vaccine's effect diminishes with age, therefore people aged 80 or older aren't eligible to receive the vaccine.
Side effects of getting the vaccine
Like all vaccines, the shingles vaccines can cause side effects, but they're generally mild and do not last long.
Common side effects that occur in at least one in 10 people are:
- redness, pain, swelling, itching at the injection site
If the side effects continue for more than a few days, contact your GP or practice nurse.
Tell your GP if you develop a rash after having the shingles vaccination.
People with a weakened immune system
Some people with a weakened immune system (for example, due to cancer treatment) were previously unable to receive the Shingles vaccine, as the vaccine used was a live vaccine which contained a weakened chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus), similar to the chickenpox vaccine.
People with a severely weakened immune system cannot have live vaccines.
This vaccine has now been replaced for most people, by a non-live vaccine called Shingrix® which is proven to be safe in those with a weakened immune system.
If you are aged between 71 and 79 and could not get the shingles vaccine due to a weakened immune system, ask your GP for advice.
If you are aged 50 years or over with a severely weakened immune system, you are also eligible to receive the singles vaccine.