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Minister announces the introduction of the shingles vaccination programme from October 2013

Health Minister Edwin Poots has announced the introduction of a vaccination programme to protect older people from shingles.
Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The plan will see a routine shingles vaccination programme introduced for all people aged 70. A catch-up programme for those aged 71 to 79 will also be introduced over the next few years beginning this October with all 79 year olds.

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus in a person who has previously had chicken pox. It is not known what causes the virus to reactivate but this is usually associated with becoming older and with conditions that can depress the immune system. The incidence of shingles increases with age and about a quarter of adults will get shingles at some point in their life. In some cases shingles can be very serious and very unusually can even be fatal.

Older people are most at risk if they get shingles and a vaccination programme will prevent nearly 40% of the hundreds of cases seen every year in Northern Ireland in people over 70. The programme will officially begin in October 2013 and it is estimated that in Northern Ireland around 21,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in the first year. The vaccine is given as a single dose by an injection in the upper arm. Unlike the seasonal flu vaccine it does not have to be given every year. It is effective irrespective of whether someone has already had shingles as it helps to prevent a recurrence.

The Health Minister said: “Shingles is a nasty illness that causes a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters. The pain can last for many weeks or months. This vaccination programme will help protect those most at risk from shingles. I would encourage all eligible individuals to avail of this vaccine when the programme begins in October.”

A clinical study has shown that in adults aged 70 years and older the vaccine reduced the incidence of shingles by 38%. (Oxman et al. 2005). In those vaccinated that developed shingles, the vaccine significantly reduced the seriousness of illness by 55% in people aged 70 years and over.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “Shingles is treatable with antiviral drugs but can be extremely debilitating and sufferers may be hospitalised, with many suffering chronic pain lasting up to six months or in some cases years. This is only partially treatable with painkillers. This vaccination programme will help to prevent many people suffering the after-effects of shingles.”

As with all vaccination programmes it will be closely monitored by the Public Health Agency, and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Notes to editors:

  1. The shingles vaccine, Zostavax®, will mainly be offered to eligible individuals at the same time as they are called to receive their annual seasonal flu vaccination. Unlike the seasonal flu vaccine it does not have to be given every year. The vaccine is given as a single dose by an injection in the upper arm. The annual routine programme will be aimed at all those aged 70. As more of the vaccine becomes available a catch-up programme will be implemented for all those aged 71 to 79 over the next few years beginning this October with those aged 79.
  2. Shingles Symptoms
    Shingles can occur at any age, with the highest incidence seen in older people. The incidence of shingles increases with age and around one in four adults will experience shingles in their lifetime (Miller et al., 1993). Increasing incidence with age is thought to be associated with the poorer response of the immune system with age and also with waning immunity.
  3. The first signs of shingles begin most commonly with abnormal skin sensations and pain in the affected area of skin, headache, photophobia, malaise, and less commonly fever. Within days or weeks, a rash of fluid filled blisters appears in the affected area of skin and those adjacent to it. Fluid filled blisters typically appear on only one side of the body. The affected area may be intensely painful with associated tingling, pricking, or numbness of the skin, and intense itching is common.
  4. Persistent pain can develop and this is seen more frequently in older people, and is termed Post Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN). On average, this lasts from three to six months, although it may continue for years. Pain levels experienced range from mild to excruciating, and may be constant, intermittent or triggered by stimulus of the affected area. Shingles can also affect the eye and cause serious eye problems.
  5. Vaccine: Zostavax® is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur.
  6. Media enquiries about this press release to DHSSPS Press Office on 9052 0575, or out of office hours contact to Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.