The Shingles Vaccine

Most of us had chickenpox when we were young and some will not be aware that we’ve had it. If we did have it, then the virus that caused it can stay in our bodies for the rest of our lives without our knowing it is there. Sometimes, however, the virus reactivates when we’re older and causes a disease called shingles. So shingles isn’t like other infectious diseases because you don’t catch it from someone else.

Shingles can be very painful and tends to affect people more commonly as they get older. And the older you are, the worse it can be. For some, the pain can last for many years.

There is now a vaccine that can reduce your risk of getting shingles or reduce the severity of its symptoms should you develop the disease.

What is shingles?

Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is caused by the reactivation of an infection of a nerve and the area of skin that it serves, resulting in clusters of painful, itchy, fluid-filled blisters. These blisters can burst and turn into sores that eventually crust over and heal. These blisters usually affect an area on one side of the body, most commonly the chest but sometimes also the head, face and eye.

How long does it last and how serious can it be?

The rash usually appears a few days after the initial pain and tingling and lasts for about a week. In serious cases the pain can last much longer. The older you are, the more likely you are to have long-lasting pain. Sometimes shingles develops in the eye and may also affect the eyelid. This can cause severe pain and lead to decreased vision or even permanent blindness in that eye. Most people recover fully, but for some, the pain goes on for several months or even years – this is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This is a particularly unpleasant condition with severe burning, throbbing or stabbing nerve pain. Current treatments for PHN are not very effective. The new vaccine reduces the risk of getting shingles and PHN. Even if you still get shingles, the symptoms may be much reduced.

What causes shingles?

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox – varicella zoster. When you recover from chickenpox most of the virus is destroyed but some survives and lies inactive in the body in the nervous system. It can then reactivate later in life when your immune system is weakened by increasing age, stress or treatments that reduce your immunity.

How do you catch shingles?

You don’t catch shingles. Chickenpox virus caught earlier in your life reactivates later to cause shingles. You can’t catch shingles from someone who has chickenpox. However, if you have shingles blisters, the virus in the fluid can infect someone who has not had chickenpox and they may develop chickenpox.

How common is shingles?

About one in five people who have had chickenpox develop shingles. This means that in every year in England and Wales, tens of thousands of people will get shingles. It is more common in people aged over 70 years, and of these, about 14,000 go on to develop PHN and over 1400 are admitted to hospital because of it.

How effective is the vaccination?

By having the vaccination you will be significantly reducing your chances of developing shingles. And, if you do go on to have shingles the symptoms may be milder and the illness shorter, than if you had not had the vaccination.

Where is the vaccination given and will I need one every year?

Like most vaccinations, the vaccine will be given in your upper arm. You will only have the vaccination once – unlike the flu jab, you do not need to be re-vaccinated every year.

Will there be any side effects?

Side effects are usually quite mild and don’t last very long. The most common side effects, which occur in at least one in every ten people, are headache, and redness, pain, swelling, itching, warmth, and bruising at the site of the injection. If the side effects persist for more than a few days you should discuss this with your GP or practice nurse.

How safe is the vaccine – has it been used in other countries?

Like all licensed vaccines, the shingles vaccine has been thoroughly tested and meets UK and European safety and licensing requirements. It has been used extensively in several countries including the United States of America and Canada.

Who will get the vaccine?

All people aged 70 on 1 September 2013 are eligible (i.e. all those born between 2 September 1942 and 1 September 1943, inclusive). People aged 79 will also be offered the vaccine in a catch-up programme (i.e. all those born between 2 September 1933 and 1 September 1934, inclusive).

What about people who aren’t 70 or 79, will they be getting it?

People under 70 years of age will get the vaccine in the year following their seventieth birthday. If you’re under 70 and have a history of getting shingles, speak to your GP. People aged 80 and over will not get the shingles vaccination because the vaccine is less effective as people get older.

Do I need to do anything to get the vaccination?

Yes; Please contact the surgery on 01234 357143 and book an appointment with one of our practice nurses.  Alternativly you will be offered the Shingle vaccine when you attend for your flu jab.

Are there people who shouldn’t have the vaccination?

People who have weakened immune systems, for example due to cancer treatment, should not have the vaccine. Your doctor will advise whether this applies to you. Also, if you’ve had a severe reaction to any of the substances that go into the vaccine, you shouldn’t have it. Again, your GP will advise you.

Should I take any precautions after having the vaccination?

Get advice from your GP if you get a rash after having the vaccination.

Further information

Visit the NHS Choices website at

Summary of the disease and the vaccine


  • is a common disease that can cause long-lasting, severe pain
  • has been known to cause permanent disability
  • occurs more frequently in those over 70 who are also more likely to have worse symptoms.

The vaccine:

  • offered to people aged 70 or 79 on 1 September 2013
  • is expected to reduce significantly the number of cases
  • will reduce the symptoms in vaccinated people if they still develop the disease
  • has been used extensively in the USA and Canada.

Clapham Road Surgery,
46-48 Clapham Road,
Bedford, MK41 7PW

Phone: 01234 357143
Fax: 01234 345902

Monday 08:00 - 19:00
Tuesday 08:00 - 19:00
Wednesday 08:00 - 19:00
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Sunday -closed-