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.
However, with just over half of people eligible for the jab actually choosing to receive it, time is running out before their age moves them out of the target groups, which turn over on 1 September each year.
Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, explained: “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.
“Just over 50% of the people eligible for the vaccine have taken it up so far, but we would like to see this figure increase so more people can benefit from the protection offered by the vaccine. I would encourage anyone who is eligible to contact their GP today and arrange to get the vaccine.
“This is the last chance for people who are 79 to receive the vaccine as on the 1 September 2015 a new cohort of age groups will be called to get the vaccine. Likewise, people who are about to move out of the 70 year old cohort will not be eligible after 1 September.
“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 is 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.”
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 were offered the vaccine last year, but if they did not receive it yet they can still get it from their GP, 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 each year. For further information see www.bit.ly/shinglesvaccine