Everyone in their 70s could get shingles jab: Vaccine will target 4.5million at risk of severe symptoms Ministers announced vaccination programme in 2010 but it has been delayed by supply problemsOnly one shingles jab is needed, unlike the flu injection which has to be given every yearVaccinations could be available by 2013
00:55 GMT, 27 July 2012
The government has planned a vaccination programme against shingles for everyone aged between 70 and 79
Every pensioner in their 70s could be offered a shingles vaccine on the NHS.
Experts said the jabs may be given to 4.5million patients as early as next year.
Ministers first announced a vaccination programme in January 2010 but it has been delayed by supply problems.
Each year, around 250,000 adults, mainly the elderly, are infected with shingles.
It is similar to chicken pox and causes a burning rash, headache and muscle pain that can last up to four weeks.
But debilitating nerve pain can also often persist for months after the initial illness.
Only one shingles jab is needed, unlike the flu injection which has to be given every year.
However, the vaccine is difficult to make and manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur MD claimed it could not produce enough for the NHS as it already had orders from other countries.
But the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation has now said there may be ‘sufficient supply’.
According to minutes of a meeting last month, uncovered by GP magazine, the vaccinations could be available by 2013.
The revelation follows this week’s announcement that every child aged from two to 17 will be offered flu vaccines on the NHS.
Infected: Each year, around 250,000 adults, mainly the elderly, are infected with shingles
This programme is not expected to begin until 2014 at the earliest and is set to cost 100million a year.
The bill for the shingles vaccines is not yet known as it will depend on the contract negotiated with the makers.
However, the immunisation is only 50 per cent effective, meaning that half of patients may still suffer shingles.
But the jabs lower the risk of the complication ‘postherpetic neuralgia’, which causes nerve pain. Up to two-thirds of patients who have the vaccine will not develop this condition, even if they get shingles.
It is for this reason that campaigners insist the vaccination would dramatically improve the quality of life for many thousands of patients.
Marian Nicholson, director of the Shingles Support Group, said: ‘This is really significant for older people’s enjoyment of life.’
She said the vaccine would be particularly welcome as it prevents severe nerve pain.
‘One lady I spoke to said it was like childbirth but lasted far longer, and with no baby,’ said Miss Nicholson.
‘You just can’t predict who is going to suffer.’
A small supply of the injections is already available on the NHS but very few patients or GPs are aware they exist.
At the beginning of this month, the Department of Health bought 60,000 doses from the makers.
Any patient over 50 is entitled to a free jab while stocks last.
But several patients have been turned away as surgeries do not yet have supplies and GPs do not know they are available.