Public Health England (PHE) is reminding eligible older people to get the shingles vaccine to help prevent the painful infection. New figures have shown a drop in vaccine coverage.
From 1 September 2015, the shingles vaccine has been offered to people aged 70 years on 1 September 2015. People aged 78 years on 1 September 2015 can also get vaccinated.
Data for the September 2015 to November 2015 quarter shows a 2% drop in coverage for 70 year olds compared to the same period the previous year (37.8% down from 39.8%) and 0.4% drop for the catch-up cohort (78 year olds) (38.2% down from 38.6%).
Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox), which is commonly caught in childhood.
After a person has had chickenpox, the virus can lie dormant in the nervous tissue but may reappear as shingles. An episode of shingles typically lasts around two to four weeks. The main symptoms are pain, followed by a rash. It is possible to have shingles more than once.
Although shingles vaccination is often offered at the same time as the annual flu vaccination, shingles vaccine is available at any time throughout the year to eligible people.
Those who were eligible for immunisation in the first two years of the programme but have not yet been vaccinated against shingles remain eligible until their 80th birthday. These are people aged 71, 72 or 79 on 1 September 2015.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England said: “It’s worth taking the time and effort to visit your doctor to get the shingles vaccine as it protects you against a painful condition. You only need to be vaccinated once and it’s important that you get it while you’re the right age. We offer the shingles vaccine routinely to individuals at the age of 70 years to boost their immunity to prevent the development of shingles and significantly reduce the incidence of post herpetic neuralgia – persistent nerve pain that can occur at the site of a previous attack of shingles.
“Since the introduction of the shingles vaccine there has been a considerable reduction in the number of cases of this debilitating and painful condition.”