Why shingles vaccine is important for people in their 70s

Much of the discussion about vaccination in the UK is on Covid-19 and flu vaccines or vaccines for children. But there are also other important vaccines for adults – such as for shingles – where there is scope to increase uptake and improve health outcomes for older people and the immunocompromised.

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of latent varicella zoster virus (VZV); sometimes decades after the primary chickenpox infection. For some people – particularly the elderly and the immunocompromised – shingles can be a very unpleasant illness with significant complications.

In the UK, two vaccines are licensed for shingles:

– Zostavax which contains live, attenuated virus and which is given as a single dose.

– Shingrix which is a recombinant vaccine and which his given in two doses.

The main target group for shingles vaccination in the UK is people aged 70-79 years. Most people in this group will receive the Zostavax vaccine. People in this age group who are immunocompromised should receive the Shingrix vaccine. The rationale for vaccinating the elderly is because complication rates are much higher in this group. For example, hospital admission rates for shingles (zoster) are around 20 times higher in people aged 75 and over than those aged 15-59.

When people turn 70, they should receive an invitation for shingles vaccination from their GP. If they didn’t take up the offer of a vaccination at that time, they can still get a shingles vaccination until they are 79. Once they turn 80, you will no longer be eligible for shingles vaccination. Shingles is a disease that has many complications in the elderly. It can result in considerable pain and discomfort and reduce your mobility. In more severe cases, it may require hospital treatment as an outpatient or inpatient. Vaccination reduces these risks substantially.