The Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding all people aged 70 and 78 years old that they are eligible to receive the shingles vaccine.
The vaccine will help protect them against this common and painful disease and its complications.
The shingles vaccine is being offered routinely to people who were aged 70 years on 1 September 2016 (born between 2 September 1945 and 1 September 1946 inclusive); and as part of a catch-up programme, also to those aged 78 on 1 September (born between 2 September 1937 and 1 September 1938 inclusive).
People who were aged 71, 72, 73 or 79 on 1 September 2016 were eligible in previous years and can still get the vaccine from their GP if they have not already had received it.
Nearly half of those in the eligible age groups have taken up the offer of the free vaccine since September 2016 and the PHA is encouraging others to take up the offer.
Dr Declan Bradley, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox, some of the virus remains inactive in your body and nervous system. It can then reactivate in later life when your immune system is weakened.
“About a quarter of adults will get shingles at some point in their lives and that’s why we’d urge anyone in the eligible age groups to contact their GP and arrange a visit to get the free vaccination.
“The vaccination programme will prevent many of the hundreds of cases of shingles currently seen every year in Northern Ireland in people over 70 and reduce the severity of the symptoms for those who do develop the condition.
“For many people, shingles can be a mild infection with good recovery. But it can be very painful and is more likely to affect people as they get older. The older people are, the worse it can be, with some people left with pain that can last for years after the rash has healed.”
The vaccine is given as a single injection in the upper arm but, unlike the flu vaccine, you only need to have it once.
Dr Bradley continued: “Side effects are usually quite mild and don’t last very long. The most common side effects include headache and/or pain and swelling at the site of the injection.
“If you are invited for the vaccine by your GP because you are in the eligible age group, I would encourage you to get vaccinated to help avoid getting shingles and its painful after-effects.”
People who have lowered immunity must not receive the shingles vaccine, including people who are on chemotherapy or who have leukaemia or lymphoma. Other medicines can also lower immunity, for example, high doses of oral steroids and some drugs used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, polymyositis, sarcoidosis and inflammatory bowel disease. Check with your GP if you are receiving any treatment, especially if it is prescribed to you at a hospital.
People under 70 years of age will get the vaccine in the year following their seventieth birthday.
For further information visit www.pha.site/shingles