Shingles vaccine – what are the benefits and how can you get one?

If you’ve been invited for a shingles jab we’ve got advice from the experts on who needs to have it and why they think it’s important.

If you’ve had a message from your GP surgery inviting you for a shingles jab, you might be wondering whether to take it.

Around one in five people will develop shingles in their lifetime, experiencing a painful rash. The first sign of infection can be tingling, painful skin, a headache and feeling generally unwell, and it can lead to complications, such as long-lasting pain, hearing loss or blindness.

The shingles vaccine has traditionally been offered to people aged 70 to 79, but from September 2023 the programme expanded to include those who had recently turned 65. So now, once you’ve celebrated that birthday or if you are over 50 with a weakened immune system, you should get an invitation from your GP surgery.

Woman being vaccinatedCredit: Shutterstock / PeopleImages.com – Yuri A

Why do I need a shingles vaccine?

Reducing your risk of shingles

London-based GP Dr Jane Leonard welcomes the news that vaccines are now being offered to those turning 65.

“I think vaccines in general can only be a good thing, and when we look at trends in epidemiology, we might notice that infections such as shingles are occurring more frequently – and we know the effects can be dramatic,” she told Saga Exceptional.

“As you get older, the risk of shingles increases, and the symptoms can be much worse. Because your physical resilience might not be the same as a younger person, your recovery might also be longer.

“The pain and rash can affect your quality of life, and once the initial symptoms subside, your levels of fatigue can be worse.”

I’ve had chickenpox – do I need a shingles vaccine?

You can still get shingles if you’ve had chickenpox

If you’ve already had chickenpox or shingles, it’s still important to come forward for the vaccine. One of the myths with shingles is that you can only get it once, but that’s not true.

Shingles happens in people who have previously been infected with chickenpox at any point in their lives – which is nearly everyone.

Chickenpox can sometimes be very mild, or you can get it when very young, so you might not even know if you’ve had it in the past. The virus lies dormant in your body and can develop into shingles without warning.

You can get shingles more than once

“It can affect you at any time, and if you’ve been under stress or have recently been unwell with something else, that can trigger shingles – and yes, you can get it more than once,” says Dr Leonard.

Can I have the shingles vaccine on the NHS?

Who is eligible for the shingles vaccine?

  • People who turned 65 on or after 1 September 2023. (If you turned 65 before 1 September 2023, you’ll have to wait until you turn 70.)
  • Anyone between 70 and 79.
  • If you are over 50 and have a severely weakened immune system (for example, if you have a blood cancer, such as leukaemia or lymphoma, HIV or Aids, have recently had a stem cell transplant, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or an organ transplant, or you’re taking medicines that severely weaken your immune system).

Find out more about the shingles vaccine from the NHS and if you’re not sure if you’re eligible, you can ask your GP or care team.

Credit: Shutterstock / aslysun

How to book an appointment for the shingles vaccine

Offered the vaccine? Book your appointment

If you are eligible for the vaccine you should be contacted by your GP, usually by letter, text message, phone or email. If you haven’t received an invitation and you qualify, speak to your GP surgery.

You can normally have the shingles vaccine at the same time as other vaccines such as the flu, COVID-19 and pneumococcal vaccines. However if you are feeling unwell when you are due to have your jab, speak to your GP.

Are there any side effects?

Mild side effects only

Any side effects from the vaccine should be mild – and they’ll pass quickly.

“Like any vaccine, you might have a fever or pain around the injection site. You might feel a little bit under the weather and tired, but that’s temporary, so rest and take paracetamol if you do get affected,” says Dr Leonard.

Shingles vaccination was first introduced to the UK in 2013 and, in the five years that followed, there were 45,000 fewer GP consultations and 1,840 fewer hospitalisations for shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia (the most common complication from infection, which causes burning pain in the skin once the rash has gone).

You only cannot have the vaccine if you’ve had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of the vaccine, or an ingredient in the vaccine. Talk to your GP if you have any concerns.

A new vaccine is now available

This year, a new vaccine is being given in England, called Shingrix, which has performed well in clinical trials. It is given in two doses, usually six to 12 months apart (unlike the previous vaccine, Zostavax, which was a one-dose vaccine). If you’re in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you might be offered either Zostavax or Shingrix.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, encourages anyone who’s offered the vaccine to take it. “Shingles is an extremely painful condition, and complications can be long-lasting.

“Older people and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable, so I’d encourage all those newly eligible from today to come forward,” she says.

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier

Updated:

Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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