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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 get shingles?

Unlike other infectious diseases, you don’t catch shingles from someone else. When you recover from chickenpox, most of the virus is destroyed, but some can stay in your body  for the rest of your life without you knowing it is there.  The virus can  become active again  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.

Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable. Most people fully recover from shingles, but for some people the pain can last for months or longer. 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 very serious for people who are severely immunosuppressed.

Shingles can be fatal.

How common is shingles?

About one in five people who have had chickenpox will get shingles.

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.

Each year a number of people aged 65 and over are admitted to hospital with shingles in Wales.

How is the shingles vaccine given?

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

How many doses will I need?

If you have the weakened live virus vaccine (Zostavax) you will only need one dose.

If you have the inactivated vaccine (Shingrix) you will need two doses:

  • If you have a severely weakened immune system, you should have the second dose at least eight weeks after your first dose.
  • If you do not have a severely weakened immune system, you should have the second dose at least six to twelve months after your first dose.

Once your course is complete you do not need any more shingles vaccines.

Who will be able to have the shingles vaccination?

The routine shingles vaccination programme was introduced in 2013 and in September 2023 the eligible age reduced. This change was based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) a scientific committee that advises UK health departments on immunisation.

The shingles vaccine is available free from NHS Wales for people aged 65 and 70 to 79 years and people aged 50 years and over who have a severely weakened immune system. It helps to reduce your risk of getting shingles.

Read more about who can have the shingles vaccine.

How do I get the shingles vaccination?

Your GP should  invite you to the surgery for the vaccination.

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, once your course is complete you do not need any more shingles vaccines.

Will there be any side effects from the shingles vaccination?

Side effects from this vaccine are usually quite mild and don’t last long.

The most common side effects following a shingles vaccine are headache, pain and tenderness in the arm where the injection was given, and general aches.

After the Shingrix vaccine you may feel tired and have a fever. You can rest and take the normal dose of paracetamol (follow the advice in the packaging) to help make you feel better. Do not use machines or drive if you are feeling unwell.

If the side effects last for more than a few days you should discuss this with your GP or practice nurse.

If you have had the weakened live virus vaccine (Zostavax),  a rash of small blisters may develop where the injection was given but this is rare. If this happens, the rash should be covered until it crusts over, 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.  Please get advice from your GP surgery.

Other side effects are uncommon or very rare.

Information on reporting side effects can be found online at or call the Yellow Card Hotline on 0800 731 6789 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm).

What about people who aren't yet 65 or 70 to 79? Will they get the shingles vaccine?

Younger people will be offered the vaccine when they reach the eligible age.

Shingles can occur at any age, but the risk, severity and complications increase with age. Those with severely weakened immune systems are at higher risk, which is why the vaccine is recommended at an earlier age.

If you are worried about shingles speak to your GP.

Who shouldn't have the shingles vaccine?

There are two shingles vaccines available – Zostavax and Shingrix. Zostavax contains a weakened version of the live shingles virus.

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),

Zostavax® is a live vaccine and should not be given to 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.

Will the shingles vaccine stop me getting shingles?

The shingles vaccine helps to protect you by boosting your immunity. Like all medicines, no vaccine is 100% effective, some people may still get shingles despite having the vaccination. If you do get shingles, the vaccine may 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 being aware.

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

Yes you are still eligible for a shingles vaccine.  However, if you have had 2 or more episodes of shingles in a year then you should discuss this with your GP or practice nurse as you may require a clinical review prior to having the vaccination.

Can I get the shingles vaccine privately?

The shingles vaccine is licensed for use from 50 years of age and some people aged 18 and over who are at increased risk.

It may be prescribed privately but expect to pay between £170 and £480 for a course of vaccination at a private clinic.

In some cases a GP may prescribe a shingles vaccine on the NHS for a patient who has been assessed as clinically appropriate to have the vaccination.


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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