The Shingles Vaccine

The Shingles Vaccine

Shingles is a very common condition especially in the over 50s. In the UK, about one in four people experience shingles at some point during their lifetime. It is thought these rates may be similar in Ireland. The shingles vaccine is a safe and effective way to reduce your chances of developing shingles.

What is shingles?

Shingles is an infection of a nerve and the area of skin around it. It is a painful skin rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus. If you have had chicken pox in the past, you may develop shingles as the virus remains inactive in your nervous system after the illness. Your immune system keeps the virus in check until such a time, usually in later life, it reactivates and causes shingles.

The Shingles Vaccine

The shingles vaccine contains a weakened chickenpox virus that encourages your body to produce antibodies against the herpes zoster virus. Your antibodies are proteins produced by your body to destroy disease or infection. The vaccine protects you from becoming ill if the virus is reactivated. If you are unfortunate enough to catch the virus, the vaccine may also reduce the severity of the symptoms and length of the illness.

Who should get the vaccine?

Shingles can affect anyone. It can occur at any age, but it is most common in people over 50 years.

Although, it is not known exactly why the virus reactivates in later life, it is thought that it may be the result of a lowered immunity (a reduced ability to protect against infection). Lowered immunity may be due to

  • Being older– immunity decreases with age. Shingles most commonly occurs in people over 50 years old.
  • Physical and emotional stress– releases a chemical into your system that can weaken your immunity.
  • HIV and AIDS– significantly weakens your immunity system. People living with HIV/AIDS may be up to 25 times more likely to get shingles.
  • A recent bone marrow transplant– weakens your immune system because of the conditioning you receive before your transplant.
  • A recent organ transplant – medication may be required to suppress your immune system so your body can accept the donated organ. After a transplant, 25-45% of people may develop shingles.
  • Chemotherapy– typically used in the treatment of some cancers, it can significantly weaken your immune system


Side-effects of the Shingles Vaccine

Like most vaccines, you may experience some mild side-effects including:

  • a mild fever
  • redness, itching, pain, hardness and swelling around the site of injection
  • muscle ache, headache, and
  • feeling tired.

Aside from an extremely small risk of serious allergic reaction, there are no serious side-effects associated with the shingles vaccination. The side-effects usually pass within a few hours.

On rare occasions, a person has developed chickenpox following a shingles vaccination, but this occurs in fewer than 1 in 10,000 people.

How much does it cost?

The shingles vaccine costs €450 for Medical Card, GP Visit Card and private patients alike.


Useful Links

Patient – More information on the shingles virus

HSE – Patient information on the shingles virus


Content developed from HSE and NHS Choices is adapted for Galway East Medical Practice by Galway East Medical Practice.

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