Vaccine for shingles

By Lesley Dobson , Monday 20 February 2012

Alphabet S Shingles hurts – ask anyone who’s had it – but help is on the way
VaccineVaccine

Unfortunately, the older we get, the more likely we are to develop shingles. This condition is most common in the over-fifties, with three in 1,000 affected every year. That figure rises to 11 in every 1,000 people aged over 80 who are affected by shingles each year.

The good news is that there is now a shingles vaccine available to people aged 50 and over. However, for the moment there are only 60,000 doses of the vaccine available, not enough for everyone who might want it.

“The shingles vaccine is a complex vaccine to manufacture and, for the time being, we simply don’t have enough Zostavox ® to meet the needs of a nationwide vaccination programme,” said Richard Stubbins, Vice President of Sanofi Pasteur MSD in the UK, manufacturers of the vaccine.

“We are scaling up the production of the vaccine,” said Paul Hardiman, of Sanofi Pasteur MSD. “Our aim is for it to be available through the NHS.” The company says it is committed to supporting the launch of a UK national vaccination programme as soon as possible, in line with a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The committee recommended that there should be a 'universal herepes zoster vaccination programme for adults aged 70 to 79'.

But for the moment, if you want to be vaccinated against shingles, you have to buy it with a private prescription. At a cost of £99.96 for the one-dose vaccination, it’s not an option for everyone. If you are concerned about the prospect of developing shingles, and can pay for it, the advice is to see your GP. If they feel that this is a good idea, given your medical history, they can write you a private prescription, and give you the injection  – neither of which they should charge you for.

You’d need to take the prescription to a pharmacy (check first that they have some of the vaccine in stock), and pay there both for the vaccine, and for an additional dispensing fee. If they don’t have any of the vaccine, ask the pharmacist if they know where you can obtain it.

Sanofi Pasteur MSD, which produces the vaccine says that it may prevent shingles in half of the people that receive it. Of the other fifty percent, two thirds may feel less severe pain and discomfort. 

What is shingles?

Shingles is caused by the same virus that gives us that common childhood complaint, chickenpox. The virus – herpes varicella-zoster - lurks, inactive, in our nervous system, kept under control by our immune system until something kicks it back into action. We don’t know precisely what the trigger is, but it may be having a weakened immune system, possibly because of being stressed, or simply getting older.

Shingles infects a nerve and the skin around it. The symptoms often start with  feeling poorly, and having a high temperature, in the early stages, and pain – dull or burning, and at times sharp and stabbing occasionally.  A rash that develops into itchy blisters (rather like chicken pox), usually develops on one side of your body, in the area of the infected nerve. Some people – around one in 10 of those who have shingles, also develop post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), long-lasting pain.

If you think you may have shingles, it’s important to see your GP – having treatment early may help to keep your symptoms – and discomfort – under control. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication such as acyclovir, which may make your symptoms less severe, but which needs to be started within three days of the rash appearing. Other treatments include painkillers and antidepressants such as amitriptyline, which can help manage your pain.

If you have a temperature of over 38C, a severe headache, confusion and memory loss you should see your doctor as soon as possible. The same applies if you have symptoms affecting your eyes, such as an inflamed cornea and/or iris, conjunctivitis, and a headache and rash around your eye, in which case you may have ophthalmic shingles and should get medical attention quickly.

Useful website

NHS Choices - www.nhs.uk


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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  • William Hancock

    Posted: Wednesday 05 March 2014

    I am 87 years of age. I live in Congleton , Cheshire, CW 12 3BD and am looking for private vaccination for shingles. Please is there a clinic or otherwise in this area?

  • Mrs Kathleen Ash

    Posted: Saturday 14 December 2013

    Afraid Im in the 71 year age group. Have spoken to my Doctor and he states that he is NOT allowed to write a private prescription for any of his patients for the shingles vaccine, which is different from your comments above - now Confused even more

  • kathleen jones

    Posted: Wednesday 20 November 2013

    I have had shingles 7 times! My GP says I do not qualify for the vaccine as I am under 65 but I am exhausted with these repeated attacks. Do you know how or where I could by the vaccine online? Thanks

  • Heather Keddie

    Posted: Saturday 16 November 2013

    Could anyone tell me where in Tyne and wear or Northumberland I can obtain shingles vaccine with a private prescription.I am halfway through a shingles attack, and age 72 I would rather not have another.

    Kind regards,

    Heather Keddie

  • Shirley

    Posted: Tuesday 29 October 2013

    I am asthmatic aged 66 can i have the shingles vaccine for free

  • Tom Patterson

    Posted: Wednesday 16 October 2013

    GPs are not allowed to write private prescriptions for singles vaccine. Any guidance on how to get vaccine privately?

  • Marjorie Jones

    Posted: Monday 14 October 2013

    I developed shingles in February 2013 and was in so much pain I was admitted to hospital where I stayed for a week whilst they tried to help the awful pain. I had shingles over my scalp and eye area and had various tests and scans to make sure the eyes, and brain were not affected. I now suffer from herpetic neuraglia and have been told this could last for years.Our GP cannot consider my husband having the vaccination as he is 82 but we are unable to find a private practice. Can you help?

  • Beryl Bletcher

    Posted: Tuesday 08 October 2013

    Please can you tell me where there are private clinics offering shingles vaccination, in the West Country.
    I fall outside the guidelines for NHS vaccination.

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