Healthy living

Shingles vaccine

  • Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful, blistering rash. It is a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.
  • The risk of getting shingles and neurological complications increases with age.
  • Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect you from serious disease caused by shingles.
Who should have the shingles vaccine?

Almost all adults are at risk of developing shingles, as more than 95% of Australians over the age of 30 has been infected with chickenpox (the varicella-zoster virus). It is estimated that 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime, and as a person gets older the risk of getting shingles and neurological complications increases.

Research shows that people aged 70-79 are the age group at greatest risk of developing a serious, painful complication from shingles known as post herpetic neuralgia (PHN), where the person experiences pain in the area affected by shingles for a long period, sometimes months.

Who is the vaccine provided free for?

There are two vaccines, Zostavax and Shingrix, registered for use in Australia to prevent shingles in adults aged 50 and over. From 1 November 2016, people aged 70 years are eligible for the Zostavax vaccine at no cost under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). Those aged 71-79 can also get the Zostavax vaccine for free until 31 October 2021.

Zostavax is not recommended for people who have weakened immune systems.

Eligible people under the NIP may be charged a consultation fee with your health care provider. Check with your GP or vaccination provider for advice.

What are the common side effects or risks?

All vaccines or medicines can have side effects. Side effects after vaccination are usually mild and short-lasting and do not need special treatment. For most people, the chance of having a serious vaccine side effect is much lower than the chance of serious harm if you caught the disease.

The most common side effects occur around the injection site, including redness, swelling and/or pain. Sometimes, headache, itching or a rash around the injection site may also occur.

Certain people may experience moderate side effects, e.g.  those with a very weakened immune system. Talk to your GP or vaccination provider for advice.

Very rarely people may develop an infection from the Zostavax vaccine.  Anyone who develops a chickenpox like rash or feels unwell or has a fever within 2 to 4 weeks of having a Zostavax vaccine should seek medical attention immediately. WA Health has developed a magnet as a reminder to mention your vaccination history to your treating health professional. You can also print the Zostavax flyer (PDF 205KB) for you or your family’s use.

For further advice on contraindications to shingles vaccination:

What are the common side effects?

The most common side effects occur around the injection site, including redness, swelling and/or pain.

Sometimes, headache, itching or a rash around the injection site may also occur.

How is the vaccine given?

The shingles vaccine is currently given as a needle and is available at your GP, AMS or community vaccination clinic.

How do I report an adverse event?

The Western Australian Vaccine Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) system is the central reporting service in WA for any significant adverse events following immunisation.

If you have experienced an adverse reaction to a vaccine:

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Visit healthdirect (external site) or call 1800 022 222
  • Phone the National Immunisation Information Line on 1800 671 811
  • For emergency or life-threatening conditions, visit an emergency department or dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance

For more information on the national shingles program, visit the Australian Department of Health website (external site).


Acknowledgements

Public Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

Where can I get my vaccine?