The shingles vaccine is joining the National Immunisation Program from 1 November. See who is eligible for free jabs.
Almost five million Australians will have free access to the Shingrix shingles vaccine within weeks, when the vaccine becomes available through the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
Experts have urged GPs to start communicating the change to patients – especially those who are eligible.
This includes everyone aged 65 years and over, First Nations people 50 years and over, and immunocompromised people 18 years and over at high risk of herpes zoster infection. These conditions include haemopoietic stem cell transplant, solid organ transplant, haematological malignancy and advanced or untreated HIV.
Shingrix provides around 10 years of protection and usually costs up to $560 for the two-course dose, which is administered in two doses over two months.
Infectious diseases expert Professor Robert Booy said the NIP listing was a positive step forward by the federal government in helping Australians who were vulnerable to shingles manage their risk of this painful and potentially debilitating disease.
“It’s a big move – there are nearly 5 million people who are going to be eligible [to access the vaccine for free],” the University of Sydney paediatrician said.
“About 100,000 Australians get shingles every year, so this is going to make a big difference.”
For people who are severely immunocompromised, the risk of developing shingles can be up to three times higher. Shingles also comes with the risk of post-disease complications, the most common being post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). The incidence of PHN increases with age, ranging from approximately 10% in people aged 50 to 59-years-old to up to 20% in those aged over 80.
Professor Booy said it was important to be aware of the changes to ensure all patients were aware of their eligibility. He said patients who met the eligibility requirements could only access a free Shingrix vaccine if it had been five years or more since their Zostavax vaccine.
He said there was no problem changing a patient who had previously had a Zostavax vaccine to Shingrix, and patients could be vaccinated three months after a shingles infection.
The vaccine will replace the Zostavax live vaccine on the NIP from 1 November following advice from PBAC and ATAGI. The change is expected to cost the Australian Government about $827 million.
Health Minister Mark Butler said about one in three unvaccinated Australians would get shingles in their lifetime. One in five people with shingles will develop severe nerve pain known as post-herpetic neuralgia that can last months or even years. In some cases, it may be permanent.
“This investment will ensure nearly five million Australians can get free protection from shingles and the very painful nerve damage that it causes,” Mr Butler said in a statement on the weekend.
“Shingles can be severe, so it’s really important that eligible people talk to their GP or pharmacist about getting the shingles vaccine.”
Professor Booy said there was benefit in preventing shingles through vaccination, especially for patients at higher risk of complications.
“Shingles can be serious, and in some cases can result in patients being impacted by debilitating, long-term effects,” he said.
“People who develop shingles generally need time off work, sometimes for weeks, and if they experience post-herpetic neuralgia, the pain can linger long after the rash and blisters have disappeared.”
Manufacturer GSK Australia has welcomed the listing, according to its Australian medical director Dr Alan Paul.
“Vaccinations help keep people well, and can reduce demands on primary care and hospitals, as well as increasing productivity and benefiting the community and economy,” he said.
“The NIP listing of Shingrix highlights the government’s commitment to prioritising adult vaccination. This is an important investment in the health of over four million Australians who are at greater risk of shingles.”
Painaustralia CEO Giulia Jones said the announcement would be welcome news for many Australians at risk of shingles.
“The pain of shingles is often described by our members as the worst they have ever experienced,” she said.
“Often these people are already in pain due to other health issues, and if they develop ongoing complications, their life can be very uncomfortable. Painaustralia is really pleased shingles is being taken seriously by the government.”