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Government to roll out new shingles vaccine that cuts infection by half

A new study led by Dr Sinéad Langan from the faculty of epidemiology and population health and her colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found a vaccine against shingles that could reduce the risk of infection by half and cut much suffering and pain in the elderly who are most at risk of infection. The study was conducted between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2009, following medical reports of 766,000 individuals in private healthcare institution aged 65 years.

About shingles

Shingles, sometimes called herpes zoster, is a viral infection of a nerve and parts of the skin supplied by the infected nerve. The infection is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. It causes a painful rash on skin that may last for years.

If you have ever had chickenpox in the past, you may develop shingles as well. About one in five people have been affected by shingles at some time in their life and one in 50 people are affected two or more times in their lifetime.

The new vaccine

Dr Sinéad Langan and her team, in a report published on the Public Library of Science medical journal, said the new vaccine should prevent nearly half of all new cases of shingles in people aged over 70 years who are at greatest risk of infection.

The researchers, however, revealed the vaccine was not as effective in preventing shingles in older adults with impaired immune systems. Nonetheless, they highlighted the importance of receiving routine immunisation against the disease particularly for those aged 65 and older.

“This [study] lends more support to the fact that individuals aged 65 and older should talk to their doctors about receiving the herpes zoster/shingles vaccine. There is absolutely no downside to receiving the vaccination and given that postherpetic neuralgia can be so debilitating, the vaccination is extremely important,” said Dr. Gilbert Ross an expert on the research team.

Vaccination in the UK

NHS has said it will be offering the shingles vaccine to people in their 70s across the UK starting September, 2013. It estimates about 800,000 people will be eligible to receive the vaccine in England alone at first roll out. The government-lead vaccination programme will cost about £25m a year in England and target 70, 78 and 79-year-olds in the first phase. Wales will initially target 78 and 79-year-olds.

It is not yet known when a nationwide shingles vaccination scheme will be brought in. The Department of Health (DH) was unable to negotiate a large enough contract with shingles vaccine manufactures to support a nationwide vaccination scheme in the UK.

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