Older and immunocompromised Australians will be given free access to a new, more effective shingles vaccine from next month.  

Key points:

  • A new shingles vaccine will be free for older Australians and immunocompromised people from November 1 
  • The jab is more effective than the shingles vaccine currently available on the National Immunisation Program 
  • The risk of developing shingles increases with age 

Nearly five million people will be eligible for the vaccination from November 1, including those aged 65 years and over, First Nations people aged 50 years and over and immunocompromised people aged 18 years and over who are at high risk of catching the shingles virus. 

Shingles, which is also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox and presents as a painful, blistering rash on one side of the face or body. 

The virus usually lasts 10 to 15 days but one in five people will develop long-term nerve pain known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), which can last for months or even years after the rash has gone away. 

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare one in three people will develop shingles at some point in their life, with the risk of catching the virus increasing with age, becoming most common in those aged 60 and older. 

Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said the federal government was investing $826.8 million to provide the Shingrix vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). 

“I’m told by hospital operators that increasingly there are presentations by older Australians to hospital because of complications driven by shingles,” Mr Butler said. 

“This is a very serious public health menace that we can front in Australia. 

“This investment will ensure nearly five million Australians can get free protection from shingles and the very painful nerve damage that it causes.”

Mark Butler says the new vaccine is more effective than the one currently available on the National Immunisation Program. (ABC News. )

The Shingrix vaccine will replace the Zostavax vaccine on the NIP following advice from the independent medicines experts at the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. 

Mr Butler said the currently available Zostavax vaccine was “only moderately effective”. 

“[Shingrix] is much more effective, about 90 per cent effective in older Australians in preventing shingles against 40 per cent for older Australians with the existing vaccine and is also much longer-lasting,” he said. 

“Shingles can be severe, so it’s really important that eligible people talk to their GP or pharmacist about getting the shingles vaccine.” 

Senior Clinical Immunologist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital Pravin Hissaria urged those eligible to talk to their GP or health practitioner about getting the vaccine as soon as possible. 

“The uptake should be a lot higher because it does not have lots of precautions that needed to be taken with the previously available vaccine,” he said. 

“It is to be taken in two doses, preferably two months apart but it can be taken from two to six months apart.” 

The Shingrix vaccine, which would otherwise cost up to $560, provides about 10 years of protection against shingles.