Shingles vaccine to be offered to over-70s

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People in their 70s will be offered the shingles vaccine on the NHS from today.

The programme aims to protect older people who are at greatest risk from the infection.

Government advisers ruled that vaccinating people in their 80s was not cost-effective because it works less well in the age group.

The initiative targets those aged 70 to 79. It is estimated 800,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in the first year.

Shingles is caused by the same virus, which causes chickenpox.

It usually affects a specific area on either the left or right side of the body and causes a painful rash which develops into itchy blisters.

Most people feel unwell for several days before the rash appears, which can take two to four weeks to heal. Complications can include severe nerve pain that continues after symptoms have gone.

Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at Public Health England, said: “When you recover from chickenpox, most of the virus is destroyed but some survives and lies inactive in the body in the nervous system. It can then reactivate later in life when your immune system is weakened by increasing age, stress or treatments that reduce your immunity.

“It is most common in people aged over 70 years, but by having the vaccine you will be reducing your chances of developing shingles by more than 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.”