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.
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. 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 reduce 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. Unlike the flu vaccine, you'll only need to have the vaccination once and you can have it at any time of the year.
Most people will only need one dose, but some people who cannot have the routine vaccine for health reasons will need two doses.
Your GP will contact you when you turn 70 to arrange this.
People who are eligible for the vaccine
From Autumn 2021, your GP will offer you the vaccine if you were aged 70 on 1 September 2021 and were born:
- between 2 September 1950 and 1 September 1951
You are still eligible for the vaccine during 2021/ 2022 if you haven't already received the vaccine and:
- are currently aged between 71 and 79
- were born between 2 September 1941 and 1 September 1950
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
Previously some people with a weakened immune system (for example, due to cancer treatment) were previously unable to receive the Shingles vaccine.
This is because the vaccine recommended for most people is a live vaccine called Zostavax. It contains a weakened chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus) which is similar to the chickenpox vaccine. People with a severely weakened immune system cannot have live vaccines.
From autumn 2021 however, they will be eligible for a new non-live vaccine called Shingrix® which is proven to be safe in those with a weakened immune system.
You GP will make contact to arrange an appointment and discuss this with you, if you were aged 70 on 1 September 2021 and were born between 2 September 1950 and 1 September 1951.
If you are aged between 71 and 79, and previously could not receive the shingles vaccine due to a weakened immune system, ask your GP for advice.