GP practices will offer the shingles vaccine throughout the year to patients over the age of 70.
A letter by Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England sent to practices today (9 April) specified that patients aged 70 and 78 years old will now be eligible for their shingles vaccine from the date of their birthday.
The letter read: ‘The shingles vaccine can now be offered opportunistically to patients throughout the year as they become of eligible age, preferably from April onwards to align with increased central vaccine availability.’
The shingles immunisation programme
Since it was first introduced in 2013, the shingles immunisation programme would traditionally see patients receiving their vaccine from September onwards.
Patients aged 70 or 78 on 1 September were considered eligible for the vaccine.
Under the new change, patients are eligible from the date of their birthday and can receive the vaccine anytime throughout the year.
In particular, PHE and NHS England specified that are entitled to free vaccine those patients who:
• are aged 70 years, on or after their 70th birthday;
• are aged 78 years, on or after their 78th birthday;
• were eligible for immunisation in the previous programme years but have not yet been vaccinated against shingles.
Simplifying eligibility for the vaccine is expected to make it easier for practices to identify eligible patients, said NHS England and PHE.
This is in response to a year on year decline on shingles vaccine uptake, which had been given to just under half of eligible patients by the end of August 2017, as reported in the ‘Herpes zoster (shingles) immunisation programme 2016 to 2017: evaluation report’.
Cutting shingles infections
Around 50,000 people aged 70 or above manifest shingles symptoms every year, with 50 of these cases resulting in death, according to Oxford Vaccine Group.
However, the vaccine is expected to reduce cases of shingles infection by 38% in those aged 70 or above.
Practices are encouraged to get their vaccines via the ImmForm website but to hold no more than two weeks’ worth of stock as the ‘shelf life of this vaccine can sometimes be shorter than anticipated’, warned PHE.