This blog is written by our clinicians and aims to keep patients informed with up to date information on medical conditions.
Firstly – what is Shingles?
Shingles is also known as Herpes Zoster and is a severely painful blistering skin rash that can only occur in those that have previously had chickenpox. The rash can result in persistent pain (post-herpetic neuralgia) at the rash site long after it has cleared up. The chickenpox virus stays inactivated in spinal nerve cells until something weakens your immune system such as steroids / chemotherapy / infection / stress etc.
Typically, a shingles rash only appears on one side of the face/body from the spine outwards, and usually heals within 2 to 4 weeks. Other viral symptoms can occur too such as fever, headache, chills, and an upset stomach. Very rarely, a shingles infection can lead to serious complications.
Shingles can occur at any age after chickenpox infection, although it is most common over the age of 50.
What vaccines are available?
Since 2006 in the UK, the NHS has been giving the Zostavax vaccination to the over 70’s to help prevent shingles. This is a live chickenpox virus which is in a weakened form (and is simply 14 times the dose of the paediatric chickenpox vaccine!).
A few years ago, another shingles vaccine was licensed and recommended in the US called Shingrix. This is very different to Zostavax – instead of being a live, weakened form of chickenpox, it is just one protein (glycoprotein E) that usually sits on the surface of the chickenpox virus, with two adjuvants which help to generate a strong and sustained immune response to it. This is therefore a non-live, subunit vaccine.
It is licensed for the over 50’s but is currently only available in the private sector in the UK. It is a course of 2 vaccines with the 2nd one given 2-6 months after the 1st dose.
Unfortunately, for the last year and a half, there has been a national shortage of Shingrix, so we are really pleased to have managed to get some stocks back in and are ready to vaccinate you!
Effectiveness of Zostavax versus Shingrix
|Effectiveness against shingles||Effectiveness against post-herpetic neuralgia|
|ZOSTAVAX||51%||67% (drops to only 30% 4 years after vaccination)|
|SHINGRIX||95%||88-92% (minimal drop to 85% 4 years after vaccination)|
Due to Shingrix’s better protection rates against shingles than Zostavax it is now the preferred vaccine in the UK. Even if you have already had Zostavax, it is still recommended that you receive two doses of Shingrix.