Published on 17 July 2013 12:00 PM
Health Minister Edwin Poots has announced the introduction of a vaccination programme to protect older people from shingles.
The plan will see a routine shingles vaccination programme introduced for all people aged 70. A catch-up programme for those aged 71 to 79 will also be introduced over the next few years beginning this October with all 79 year olds.
Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus in a person who has previously had chicken pox. It is not known what causes the virus to reactivate but this is usually associated with becoming older and with conditions that can depress the immune system. The incidence of shingles increases with age and about a quarter of adults will get shingles at some point in their life. In some cases shingles can be very serious and very unusually can even be fatal.
Older people are most at risk if they get shingles and a vaccination programme will prevent nearly 40% of the hundreds of cases seen every year in Northern Ireland in people over 70. The programme will officially begin in October 2013 and it is estimated that in Northern Ireland around 21,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in the first year. The vaccine is given as a single dose by an injection in the upper arm. Unlike the seasonal flu vaccine it does not have to be given every year. It is effective irrespective of whether someone has already had shingles as it helps to prevent a recurrence.
The Health Minister said: “Shingles is a nasty illness that causes a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters. The pain can last for many weeks or months. This vaccination programme will help protect those most at risk from shingles. I would encourage all eligible individuals to avail of this vaccine when the programme begins in October.”
A clinical study has shown that in adults aged 70 years and older the vaccine reduced the incidence of shingles by 38%. (Oxman et al. 2005). In those vaccinated that developed shingles, the vaccine significantly reduced the seriousness of illness by 55% in people aged 70 years and over.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “Shingles is treatable with antiviral drugs but can be extremely debilitating and sufferers may be hospitalised, with many suffering chronic pain lasting up to six months or in some cases years. This is only partially treatable with painkillers. This vaccination programme will help to prevent many people suffering the after-effects of shingles.”
As with all vaccination programmes it will be closely monitored by the Public Health Agency, and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).