Many older Australians are missing out on the chance to get vaccinated against shingles, according to the latest edition of Australian Prescriber. Only about a third of 70-year-olds have had the free vaccination against this relatively common disease.
Professor Kristine Macartney, Director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance says people aged 85 and above have a 50% chance of developing shingles. The vaccine is free for people between 70 and 79 years. It reduces the risk of shingles by over 50% and makes any cases that do occur less severe.
Most older Australians have had chickenpox at some point in their life, and shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the body, usually many years later.
Someone with shingles experiences a rash, often with pain which can develop into long-lasting, difficult to treat nerve pain. The vaccine reduces the risk of this long-term pain.”
Professor Kristine Macartney
The vaccine has a good safety record in Australia, but it should not be used by people with a lowered immune system.
A new non-live shingles vaccine, not part of the free National Immunisation Program, may potentially be used for people with a lowered immune system. This vaccine is, however, currently unavailable in Australia due to a limited global supply.
To find out more about the shingles vaccination talk to your GP.