Shingles vaccine plan for elderly hits setback

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NHS plans to immunise older people against shingles have suffered a setback owing to a shortage of vaccine.

Government advisers said in 2010 that people aged 70 to 79 should be offered the jab against the painful skin condition.

But Sanofi Pasteur MSD has said “manufacturing constraints” mean there is currently not enough vaccine to supply an NHS programme.

Following discussions with the Department of Health, it has decided to make its stock of 60,000 doses available to private patients.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “We want to introduce a national shingles immunisation programme and are disappointed that there is not enough vaccine available to do this.

“When we are assured by industry that sufficient quantities can be supplied at the right price, we will start the programme.”

Sanofi said the 60,000 doses it currently had were “insufficient” to be used in a national vaccination programme as recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in 2010.

“Together with the Department of Health, the company explored a range of options to make the best use of these limited doses,” it said in a statement.

“However, within the population for whom the Department of Health has recommended vaccination, these discussions could not identify a discrete sub-group of patients that could be offered the shingles vaccine on the NHS.

“Therefore the company concluded that the only viable option at this time was to make these limited doses of shingles vaccine available through private prescription.”

Merck, the manufacturer of the vaccine and partner company in Sanofi Pasteur MSD, is now scaling up production of the shingles vaccine.

Sanofi said it “remains committed to supporting the launch of a UK national vaccination programme as soon as possible” but that demand exceeds supply in countries that already have a programme.

Shingles affects around one in four people and is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (the varicella-zoster virus).

The virus lies dormant in the spine following recovery from chickenpox and may become active later in life to cause shingles, mostly among the over-60s.

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