The Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding all people aged 70, 78 and 79 years old that they are still able to receive the shingles vaccine. The vaccine will help protect them against the common and painful skin disease and its complications.
Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox, some of the virus remains inactive in the body and nervous system. It can then reactivate later in life when your immune system is weakened. About a quarter of adults will get shingles at some point in their life.
“For most people shingles can be a mild infection with good recovery. But it can be very painful and uncomfortable and tends to affect people more commonly as they get older. The older people are, the worse it can be, with some people left with pain lasting for years after the initial rash has healed.
“It is estimated that the vaccination programme will prevent nearly 40% of the hundreds of cases seen every year in Northern Ireland in people over 70 and reduce the severity of the symptoms for those who do develop the condition.”
Who gets the vaccine?
Eligibility for the vaccine is determined by a person’s age on 1 September 2014. It will be offered routinely to people aged 70 years on the 1 September – this year that will be those born between 2 September 1943 and 1 September 1944, inclusive, and as part of a catch-up programme those aged 78 and 79 years on the 1 September (those born between 2 September 1934 and 1 September 1936, inclusive).
The shingles vaccine is given as a single injection in the upper arm, and unlike the flu vaccine you only need to have it once.
Dr Jessop continued: “Side effects are usually quite mild and don’t last very long. The most common side effects include headache, and/ or pain and swelling, at the site of the injection. The shingles vaccine has been used extensively in several countries including America and Canada. We can therefore be very confident in knowing that it is a safe and effective vaccine.
“I would recommend anyone in the eligible age groups to contact their GP to arrange to have the vaccine if they haven’t received it already.”
People who have lowered immunity must not receive the shingles vaccine, such as anyone who is on chemotherapy or has leukaemia or lymphoma. Other medicines can also lower immunity, for example, high doses of oral steroids and some drugs used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, polymyositis, sarcoidosis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Check with your GP if you are on any treatment, especially if it is prescribed to you at a hospital.
People under 70 years of age will get the vaccine in the year following their seventieth birthday. People aged 80 and over will not get the shingles vaccination because the vaccine effectiveness diminishes with age and is not recommended for people aged 80 years or older. People aged 71 should have received the vaccine last year and those aged 72-77 will be offered the vaccine over the next few years.
It is estimated that in Northern Ireland around 36,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine this year.
For further information see www.bit.ly/shinglesvaccine