New shingles vaccine offers better protection to more people

Article published 11 October 2023

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New shingles vaccine offers better protection, more people eligible

Changes to the National Immunisation Program

FROM 1 November, older Australians will have access to a new vaccination against shingles under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

This vaccine is called Shingrix and will replace the existing Zostavax vaccine.

Shingrix is not new in terms of its availability – it has been recommended for people who cannot receive Zostavax since 2021. Until now, these people have had to pay for Shingrix at a cost of around $500.

Currently, the Zostavax vaccination for shingles is only available for people aged 70 who have a healthy immune system. There is a ‘catch up’ program available for people aged 71 to 79, which ends on 31 October.

After this, Shingrix will replace Zostavax on the NIP and it will be free for:

  • People aged 65 and over,
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 and over,
  • People who are 18 years and over and are immunocompromised.

It is important to know that shingles can be very serious and can cause long-term effects such as nerve pain, neurological symptoms, loss of balance and hearing or vision impairment. As they say, prevention is the best cure.

Fact check: What is shingles?   

If you have had chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus stays in your system. It can crop up again unexpectedly later in life in the form of shingles, also known as ‘herpes zoster’. This virus is not the same as the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores.

Shingles may start out as red or pink blotchy patches, followed by fluid-filled blisters that turn into scabs. This rash generally forms in a distinct area on your back, chest, or stomach. It can also occur on the face or neck. The main symptom of shingles is pain. Shingles can also cause an upset stomach as well as flu-like symptoms such as chills, fever, headache, and fatigue.

If you have a rash from shingles that affects the area around your eyes or ears, there is a risk of vision and hearing loss.

You do not need to be exposed to chickenpox to get shingles, however, a person with shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to someone who is not immune. This person may get chickenpox.

Shingles mostly affects older people, as well as people who have an immune system that is not working as well as it should. Your immune system can be impacted by a health condition, a medical treatment such as chemotherapy, or a period of significant stress. Ask your doctor for more information if you feel unsure of whether this is something to be concerned about.

Many people believe that you cannot get shingles for a second time, but this is not the case. It is still a good idea to consider getting vaccinated even if you have already had shingles before. It’s probably not something that you’d like to experience twice.

Other important information

  • Studies have shown that the ‘new’ Shingrix vaccine may provide better protection against shingles that lasts for a longer time than Zostavax, especially for people who are over 70.
  • Zostavax is a ‘live’ vaccine, meaning that it contains a small amount of the virus that causes shingles. Shingrix is not a live vaccine which means it is more likely to be suitable for people with a compromised immune system.
  • The new vaccine requires two doses, which are given several months apart.
  • If you have received a Zostovax vaccine, you can still receive a Shingrix vaccine. It is recommended that you wait at least a year since you received the Zostavax vaccine. Unlike Zostavax, the new vaccine requires two doses that are given several months apart. You will still need both doses of Shingrix for it to be effective.

It is welcome news that more people will be able to receive a shingles vaccine under the National Immunisation Program. If you are interested, be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist after 1 November to find out if you are eligible.

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