Easy-to-read medicine information about shingles vaccine – what it is, when is it given and possible side effects.
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What is shingles vaccine?
Shingles vaccine protects against herpes zoster (shingles) infection. Shingles is a painful, itchy skin rash that usually appears on your chest, but can also affect your trunk, back, legs or face.
- Shingles is caused by varicella-zoster virus (the same virus responsible for chickenpox).
- It is more common in the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
- Vaccination with the shingles vaccine can reduce your risk of shingles and the long-term pain it can cause.
Read more about shingles.
Why is immunisation against shingles recommended?
About one-third of people will develop shingles in their lifetime; 50% of people will develop shingles by the time they reach age 85 years. While shingles can get better on its own, the most common complication occurring in up to 3 in every 10 people with shingles, is pain that goes on after the shingles rash has cleared. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia (also called nerve pain).
- Post-herpetic neuralgia is usually described as a burning or shooting pain, with itch, numbness, tingling, or sensitivity to touch or temperature.
- The risk and severity of both shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia increases with age.
- Post-herpetic neuralgia can go on for months to years.
Having the shingles vaccine can help prevent shingles and therefore reduces the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia. Read more about post-herpetic neuralgia.
How effective is the shingles vaccine?
Having the shingles vaccine reduces your risk of getting shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia, but the effect of the vaccine differs by age and time since vaccination. The vaccine becomes less effective as you get older and it is not as effective for the prevention of herpes zoster in people aged 80 years and older compared to younger people.
- The vaccine is most effective in people 60 through 69 years old, and also provides some protection if given to people 70 years old and older.
- Protection from shingles vaccine wears off over time. It's difficult to be precise, but research suggests the shingles vaccine will protect you for at least 5 years, probably longer. There are no recommendations for booster doses of shingles vaccine at this time, which means that once you've had a dose of shingle vaccine, its not necessary to have another dose.
- If you are vaccinated before age 60 years, you might not be protected later in life when the risk for shingles and its complications are greatest; the vaccine is not as effective in people aged 80 years and older.
Who should get the shingles vaccine?
In New Zealand from 1 April 2018, the shingles vaccine is funded for people who are 65 years old. People aged 66–80 years may also receive the funded vaccination until 31 March 2020.
Some people aged under 65 years who are at increased risk of shingles may also want to think about having the vaccination, although it is not funded for this group. You are at increased risk of shingles if you have one of the following conditions.
|You may be at increased risk of shingles if you have:
The effectiveness of the vaccine does decrease over time so early vaccination may mean that protection is lost in older age when there is a higher risk of developing shingles and its complications. The shingles vaccine is currently approved for adults aged 50 years and older but is still effective and possible to give to younger adults following informed consent.
Who should NOT get the shingles vaccine?
The shingle vaccine is a live vaccine. This means that it can cause an infection in people with very weakened immune systems and should not be used in people with leukaemia, lymphoma, other conditions affecting the bone marrow, tuberculosis (TB), or in people undergoing immunosuppressive therapy such as chemotherapy. It should also not be given to children and pregnant women.
What if I have had shingles recently?
If you have had shingles recently, your immunity has been boosted and this reduces the chances of getting shingles again in the short-term. Therefore, if you have recently had shingles, it is recommended that you wait at least one year before getting the shingles vaccine.
How is the shingles vaccine given?
The shingles vaccine is given as a subcutaneous injection (injected under your skin). It is given as one dose.
Possible side effects
Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.
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Where can I get vaccinated?
The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.
If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Ring them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.
You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.
Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.
The following links provide further information on shingles vaccine:
- Zostavax The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
- Checklist for the shingles vaccine (Zostavax) The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
- Zostavax Consumer Information Medsafe NZ
- Zostavax vaccine: now fully subsidised BPAC 2018
- Zostavax vaacine for shingles - do not use in immunocompromised patients Medsafe NZ, 2017