Low uptake of shingles vaccination among London’s over 70s

GPs from NHS Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are encouraging people who are 70, 78 and 79 years of age to take up the offer of a free shingles vaccine.

New data released by Public Health England shows that only around 40% of Londoners eligible for a free shingles vaccine have taken up the offer.

The vaccine is currently offered free on the NHS to people aged 70 years of age. This year people aged 78 or 79 years are also eligible for the free shingles vaccine as part of the catch-up campaign.  It is estimated that around one in five people who have had chickenpox (usually in childhood) go on to develop shingles. That means that tens of thousands of people in England and Wales will get shingles each year.

The shingles vaccine is available year-round, and once vaccinated people are protected for at least five years. People who are registered with a GP will automatically be invited for a vaccination. The vaccination can be given at the same time as the flu jab.

Despite the vaccine being proven to significantly reduce the risk of getting shingles the low uptake in London is putting older people at risk of developing this painful infection caused by the shingles virus.

The symptoms of shingles include a painful rash, usually affecting one side of the body, most often on the upper body, but shingles can also develop on the head and neck, or the eye.

Shingles usually starts with a headache, fever, and tiredness. It is very common to feel a tingling or burning pain in the area of the skin where the rash later appears. In a small proportion of people this pain may become quite severe.

After this a rash develops over the area of pain, which will turn into fluid-filled blisters. A few days after appearing, the blisters dry out and scabs form where the blisters have been. It usually takes two to four weeks for this rash to heal completely.

Shingles is caused by reactivation of the chickenpox virus, which can be caused by any of these factors: chemotherapy, stress, having an organ transplant, old age and illness. It is possible to catch it from someone who has chickenpox or shingles.

Dr Anwar Khan, Chair of NHS Waltham Forest CCG, said:

“I encourage people who are 70, 78 and 79 years old and who have not had the shingles vaccine in the last five years to arrange an appointment with their GP practice to have a vaccination. By increasing uptake of the vaccine, we hope to prevent this agonising condition amongst older people in Waltham Forest.

“Shingles can be extremely painful and potentially debilitating for some people; and older people are particularly at risk because shingles is triggered by the weakening of immune system which occurs as you get older. People over 70 years of age are also more likely to suffer from shingles for longer and have more complications. It is often more painful for this age group and sadly can be fatal in one in 1000 cases.”