Vaccinations
NHS Choices

Shingles vaccine

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

This shingles vaccine is now routinely offered to everyone aged 70 to 79 in NHS Wales.

If you are 70 years old, and have not had a shingles vaccine before, you can now have a free shingles vaccine. You will remain eligible until your 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, s. If you are unlucky enough to go on to have the disease, your symptoms may be milder and the illness shorter. The vaccine helps to reduce the chances of having long term pain afterwards.

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 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 usually begins with a tingling or 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 April 2019 people in Wales will become eligible on their 70th birthday and remain eligible up until the day before their 80th birthday. Anyone aged 70 -79 is eligible for a shingles vaccine.

The shingles vaccine is licensed from the age of 50 and may be offered to those between 50 and 70 years of age, or over 80 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 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?

A small injection into the upper arm.

Most people have their shingles vaccine at their GP surgery.

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 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 can have side effects, but they are generally mild.

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