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Shingles vaccine for the over 70s

April 30, 2013
All 70 – 79 year olds in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be vaccinated against the chicken pox virus from September 2013, the government has announced. Only people aged 78 and 79 will get the vaccine in Wales, but this will expand to all people 70 plus over the next few years. Dr Vanya Gant, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at The Physicians’ Clinic said: “The Physicians' Clinic supports the view that we now have enough evidence showing that the shingles vaccine is safe and that it can protect vulnerable elderly people against this disease.” “Shingles can be very painful in some patients and in the unlucky few this pain can persist for many months after the rash disappears and can be very difficult to treat effectively,” Dr Gant explained. “The Physicians’ Clinic welcomes its nationwide introduction in people 70 and older, where the cost of the vaccine programme is likely to be largely offset by avoided costs of necessary hospitalisation for severe cases. We also consider that some people under the age of 70 who suffer from recurrent attacks of shingles might also benefit from vaccination. The Clinic would consider offering the vaccine to patients after careful assessment of potential recipients on an individual basis,” Dr Gant confirmed.

About the shingles vaccination programme

The shingles vaccination programme, which will cost about £25 million, will prevent many cases of shingles in elderly people, saving over £20 million a year in prescriptions, visits to GPs and hospitalisation for severe cases. For the first 5 years the shingles vaccine campaign will run in ‘catch up’ mode but after that, just people who reach 70 years old will be vaccinated near to their 70th birthday. At that stage, the cost of vaccination will fall below the money saved by not having to treat as many cases of shingles. The shingles vaccine should prevent elderly people developing nasty after effects of the disease, which include:
  • Skin infection when the shingles rash becomes infected.
  • Loss of taste sensations due to nerve damage.
  • Some facial paralysis.
  • Long term pain: because the virus damaged the nerves, shingles can cause neuropathic pain, which can be difficult to treat with standard pain-killers.
  • Brain swelling: this is rare.
  • Inflammation in the spinal cord.
  • Blindness: if the eruption is in or near to the eye, the sight can be destroyed.
  • Hearing loss: caused by damage to the nerves that serve the ear.

About shingles

Shingles is caused by a virus called Varicella zoster. This same virus causes chicken pox. Most people have this common infection in childhood. It lasts about three weeks and you get better because your body mounts an immune response to the virus but that response does not get rid of the virus completely. Instead, the virus ‘hides’ in the main nerves, where it lies dormant, often for decades. As you get older, your immunity to the virus declines and the virus can start to escape, tracking back along the nerves to the skin. This causes the typical blisters of shingles, which break out along the side of the body and face. This is why it is possible to catch chicken pox from someone with shingles but it is not possible to catch shingles from someone with chicken pox.
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