NHS Choices

Shingles vaccine

A vaccine to prevent shingles, a common, painful disease is available on the NHS to certain people in their 70s.

From 1st April 2018 anyone born between 02/09/42 and 01/09/48, or between 02/09/38 and 01/09/41 is eligible for a shingles vaccine.  Those who are within eligible groups may receive their vaccine up until the day before their 80th birthday.

The shingles vaccine is given as a single injection . Unlike the flu jab, you'll only need to have the vaccination once and you can have it at any time of the year.

The shingles vaccine is expected to reduce your risk of getting shingles. If you are unlucky enough to go on to have the disease, your symptoms may be milder and the illness shorter.

Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable. Some people are left with pain lasting for years after the initial rash has healed. And shingles is fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop it.

It's fine to have the shingles vaccine if you've already had shingles. The shingles vaccine works very well in people who have had shingles before and it will boost your immunity against further shingles attacks.

What is shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus) in people who have previously had chickenpox.

It begins with a burning sensation in the skin, followed by a rash of very painful fluid-filled blisters that can then burst and turn into sores before healing. Often an area on just one side of the body is affected, usually the chest but sometimes the head, face and eye.

Read more about the symptoms of shingles.

Who can have the shingles vaccination?

From 1st April 2018, anyone born between 02/09/42 and 01/09/48, or between 02/09/38 and 01/09/41 is eligible for a shingles vaccine. Those who are within the eligible age groups may receive their vaccine up until the day before their 80th birthday.

The shingles vaccine is licensed from the age of 50 and may be offered to those between 50 and 70 years of age if considered appropriate following individual assessment by a medical prescriber.

You can have the shingles vaccination at any time of year, though many people will find it convenient to have the vaccine at the same time as their annual flu vaccination.

What is the brand name of the shingles vaccine?

The brand name of the shingles vaccine given in the UK is Zostavax.

Read more about who can have the shingles vaccine.

How is the shingles vaccine given?

As an injection into the upper arm.

How does the shingles vaccine work?

The vaccine contains a weakened chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus). It's similar, but not identical to, the chickenpox vaccine.

How long will the shingles vaccine protect me for?

It's difficult to be precise, but research suggests the shingles vaccine will protect you for at least five to seven years, probably longer.

How safe is the shingles vaccine?

There is lots of evidence showing that the shingles vaccine is very safe. It's has been used widely in the UK since 2013 as well as in several other countries, including the US and Canada. The vaccine has few side effects.

Read more about shingles vaccine side effects.

How is shingles spread?

Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. It's estimated that around one in five people who have had chickenpox go on to develop shingles at some time.

You don't "catch" shingles – it comes on when there's a reawakening of chickenpox virus that's already in your body. The virus can be reactivated because of advancing age, medication, illness or stress and so on.

Read more about the causes of shingles.

Who's most at risk of shingles?

People tend to get shingles more often when their immune system isn't working so well, this happens as we get older, especially over the age of  70. And the older you are, the worse it can be. The shingles rash can be extremely painful, such that sufferers can't even bear the feeling of their clothes touching the affected skin.

The pain of shingles can also continue long after the rash has disappeared, even for many years. This lingering pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) and this is very difficult.

Read more about the complications of shingles.

Read the answers to some of the common questions about the shingles vaccine.


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Last Updated: 01/04/2017 09:00:00