The Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding all people aged 70 and 78 years old that they are eligible to receive the shingles vaccine.
The vaccine will help protect them against this common and painful skin disease and its associated complications.
It will be offered routinely to people who were aged 70 years on or before 1 September 2015 – ie born between 2 September 1944 and 1 September 1945 inclusive; and as part of a catch-up programme, also to those aged 78 on or before 1 September – ie born between 2 September 1936 and 1 September 1937 inclusive. The vaccine will then continue to be rolled out to other people in their seventies in future years.
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 your body and nervous system. It can then reactivate in later 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”.
The vaccine is given as a single injection in the upper arm but, 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 receiving 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 therefore not recommended. People aged 71, 72 and 79 should have received the vaccine in the first two years of the programme, although they can still get it from their GP if they missed out. Those aged 73–77 will be offered the vaccine over the next few years.
It is estimated that in Northern Ireland around 27,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine this year.
For further information see www.bit.ly/shingles2015