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Shingles campaign starts

Vaccinations will be targeted at over 70s and aim to reduce pressure on GPs and hospitals

Mark Gould

Monday, 02 September 2013

A UK wide £25m vaccination campaign against shingles starts this week. The Department of Health says that around 800,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in the first year of the programme which it says will save the NHS in England alone around £20m-a-year in fewer hospital stays, GP appointments and prescriptions.

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales, those aged 70 and 79 will initially be invited to take up the vaccination.

Over the next few years, the programme will expand to include more of the 70-to-79 age group across the UK until it is fully covered. After that, the jab should only need to be offered to people as they reach their 70th birthdays.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Around 14,000 people develop it each year.

After someone has had chickenpox most of the virus is destroyed but some survives and lies inactive in the body in the nervous system. It can then be reactivated later in life when the immune system is weakened by increasing age, stress or treatments that affect immunity.

In severe cases it can cause complications such as hearing loss or brain swelling and is most common in the over-70s.

Someone who has not had chickenpox can catch it from someone with shingles - but it is not possible to catch shingles itself from someone with the condition.

Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at Public Health England, said having the vaccine would reduce the chances of having shingles by a third.

Health minister Lord Howe said: "Shingles can be a nasty disease for older people and can lead to long-term health problems for around 14,000 people each year.

"This new vaccine can prevent some of the most serious cases, giving people the chance to live without the discomfort and pain that shingles causes."

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