Irene Shepherd is the lead nurse for Oldham CCG and a practice nurse at the Hopwood House Medical Practice in Oldham. She has been a practice nurse for 17 years and manages all immunisations for Hopwood House. We spoke to her about the importance of the shingles vaccine and what benefits it offers older people.
Q. Who is the shingles vaccine available to?
“The shingles vaccine is available for people aged 70-75 and 78-79. There’s a small cohort in the middle who can’t currently have the vaccine but will be able to from their 78th birthday. We don’t offer the vaccine after you turn 80, even if you haven’t had it, so it’s really important you speak to your Medical Practice so they can check you’re eligible and arrange an appointment.
“The vaccine is live so there are some groups of people that shouldn’t have it due to their medications or their immunity. If you speak to your practice nurse she can advise what’s right for you.”
Q. Why should people have the shingles vaccine?
“Most adults have been exposed to the chickenpox virus when they were a child. The virus lies dormant in your spinal cord and shingles is when it becomes active again. It’s a very debilitating illness and very painful with a rash. It can cause pain for months after because it can cause inflammation of the nerves under your skin, called post-herpetic neuralgia – people say there’s no pain like it and it can be ongoing for a long time.
“The shingles vaccine is 62% effective in completely preventing you getting it and is 70-88% effective at stopping you getting post-herpetic neuralgia if you do. Since it was introduced in 2013 we’ve seen a 35% reduction in the cases of shingles amongst the population and it’s led to more than 20,000 less GP appointments for shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia.”
Q. Why is the vaccine only given to older people?
“The vaccine is most effective for this age group. The older population have an aged immune system so they’re also much more vulnerable to shingles. Protecting them means they can stay well and worry less about being ill. Chicken pox seems like an innocent illness when you’re a child but the effects having it can have when you’re older are much more serious.”