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Shingles vaccine FAQs

What is shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is the infection of a nerve and the skin around it.

It often starts with some tingling and pain in one area, along with a headache, and tiredness. This is usually followed by a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters a few days later. The blisters then burst and turn into sores. The rash usually affects an area on just one side of the body, most commonly the chest but sometimes the head, face and eye. It can be painful and very itchy.

When shingles affects the eye, or the skin around the eye, it can cause severe pain or even blindness.

Most people recover fully from shingles, but for some people the pain can go on for months or even years. This long-lasting pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).

The older you are, the more likely you are to have PHN which can be severe and is difficult to treat a painful skin rash caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus).

Read more about shingles symptoms.

How do you catch shingles?

You don't "catch" shingles – it comes on when the chickenpox virus that's already in your body.

Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox – the varicella zoster virus. Almost everyone gets chickenpox at some time in their life. When you recover from chickenpox, most of the virus is destroyed, but some can survive and lay inactive in the body for many years. This virus can then reactivate later in life and cause shingles. This generally happens when the immune system is weakened by things such as age, illness, stress, or medication. The shingles vaccine helps to protect you by boosting your immunity.

Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles.

Read more about the causes of shingles.

Is shingles serious?

Yes, it can be.

Not only can shingles be very painful and uncomfortable, some people are left with long-lasting pain called post herpetic neuralgia (PHN) for years after the initial rash has healed.

Most people recover fully from shingles, but for some people the pain can go on for months or even years. This long-lasting pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).

The older you are, the more likely you are to have PHN, which can be severe and is difficult to treat.

Shingles can be fatal.

How common is shingles?

About one in four people will get shingles at some time.

Every year in England and Wales, tens of thousands of people get shingles. It is most common in older people, many of whom develop long lasting pain.

How is the shingles vaccine given?

It's given as a small injection into the upper arm.

Who will be able to have the shingles vaccination?

If you are 70 years old, and have not had a shingles vaccine before, you can now have a free shingles vaccine. You will remain eligible until your 80th birthday.

The routine shingles vaccination programme was introduced in 2013 and is now available for all individuals between the ages of 70 and 79.

Read more about who can have the shingles vaccine

How do I get the shingles vaccination?

Your GP will probably invite you to the surgery for the vaccination. You can have it at the same time as your flu jab in the autumn if you wish.

If you think you have missed your invitation contact your GP surgery and make an appointment so you don’t miss out on your vaccine.

Do you need to have the shingles vaccination every year?

No, it's a one-off single injection.

Will there be any side effects from the shingles vaccination?

The most common side effects following a shingles vaccine are headache, and redness, pain, swelling, itching, warmth or bruising at the site of the injection.

Side effects from this vaccine are usually quite mild and don’t last long. If the side effects last for more than a few days you should discuss this with your GP or practice nurse.

Rarely a rash of small blisters develops where the injection was given. If this happens, the rash should be covered, and you should avoid contact with newborn babies, anyone with a weakened immune system or who is pregnant, especially if they have never had chickenpox, until it crusts over.

Other side effects are very rare.

Information on reporting side effects can be found online at or call the Yellow Card Hotline on 0808 100 3352 (Monday to Friday 10.00 – 14.00).

Read more about the side effects of the shingles vaccine.

What about people who aren't yet 70? Will they get the shingles vaccine?

Shingles is less common in younger people so people under 70 will not routinely get the vaccine.

Why can't I have the shingles vaccination if I'm 80 or over?

The vaccine is less effective as people get older, so those aged 80 and over will not routinely get the vaccine.

Which people shouldn't have the shingles vaccine?

Zostavax® is a live vaccine, so people who have a weakened immune system, (for example due to certain cancer treatments, blood disorders such as leukaemia or lymphoma, taking steroid tablets or you’ve had a transplant) – if you think this may apply to you, discuss this with your hospital specialist, GP or practice nurse.

You shouldn't have the vaccine if you've had a serious allergic reaction, such as an anaphylactic reaction, in the past to any of its ingredients, such as neomycin (your GP can tell you if this applies to you),

Your GP or practice nurse will check the vaccine is suitable for you before giving the vaccine.

You only need Zostavax® once. You do not need it every year.

Up until now, it has not been possible for people with a very weakened immune system to have a shingles vaccine, as the one used in the UK (Zostavax®) is a live vaccine, so is not suitable for this group.

From 1st September 2021, there is a non-live shingles vaccine available. It is called Shingrix® and is suitable for people who have a very weakened immune system.

This means that people who are eligible for a shingles vaccine due to their age, but whose immune system is very weak, may now have this vaccine to help protect them.

This vaccine is a two dose course, given one to two months apart, and is available from your GP surgery if you are eligible.

Will the shingles vaccine stop me getting shingles?

The shingles vaccine helps to protect you by boosting your immunity. It won't guarantee that you won't get shingles, but it will reduce your chances. And, if you do get shingles, the vaccine will likely make the symptoms milder and the illness shorter. You'll also be less likely to get shingles complications such as long term pain (post herpetic neuralgia).

Do I need the shingles vaccine if I've never had chickenpox?

Yes. Almost everyone gets chickenpox at some time in their life. Some people have chickenpox without displaying any of the typical chickenpox symptoms like rash.

Should I have the shingles vaccine if I've already had shingles?

Yes. The shingles vaccine works very well in people who have had shingles before and it will boost your immunity against further shingles attacks.

Can I get the shingles vaccine privately?

The shingles vaccine is licensed for use from 50 years of age.

It may be prescribed privately but expect to pay between £100 and £200 at a private clinic.

In some cases a GP may prescribe a shingles vaccine on the NHS for a patient between 50 and 70 years of age they consider a high risk.


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Last Updated: 17/02/2022 16:07:53
The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website