The shingles vaccine helps protect against shingles. The vaccine can reduce your risk of developing shingles or, if you do get shingles, it can reduce how serious the symptoms will be.

Routine shingles vaccination appointments have been temporarily suspended, in line with current COVID-19 advice for adults aged 70 years and over.

However, if you are eligible for the shingles vaccine and need to attend your health professional for another medical reason, you can ask your health professional if it’s possible to get your shingles vaccine while there.

What's shingles?

Shingles is caused by a virus called varicella zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox. When you recover from chickenpox most of this virus is destroyed, but some survives and lies inactive in your body’s nervous system.

The virus can then become active again later in life when your immune system has been weakened by age, stress, illness or certain treatments that can reduce your immunity. The shingles vaccine helps to protect you by boosting your immunity.

More about the symptoms of shingles

Andy's story: The symptoms of shingles (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVsDU8JbDgQ)

Andy talks about his experience of having shingles. 

Who's eligible for the vaccine?

People between the ages of 70 and 79 on 1 September 2019 are eligible for the free shingles vaccine.

People aged 80 and over won't get the shingles vaccine because it’s less effective as people get older.

If you're eligible, phone your GP to make an appointment to get your vaccine.

Where and when will I be immunised?

You'll get the vaccine at your GP practice. Please phone your GP practice to arrange an appointment to get the vaccine.

If you're eligible, you can get the vaccine any time during the year.

Improving how vaccines are offered in Scotland

To improve how vaccinations are offered to you or your child, you may notice:

  • you're invited to a new location to receive your immunisations instead of your GP practice
  • the health professional giving your immunisations changes

You'll still receive clear information about the location, date and time of your appointment.

The vaccine

The shingles vaccine's given as a one-off injection and helps to protect against shingles, which is caused by a virus called varicella zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

What vaccine's used?

The Zostavax vaccine's routinely used in Scotland.

How effective is the vaccine?

The vaccine will reduce your chances of developing shingles by more than a third. If you do go on to have shingles, the symptoms will be milder and won't last as long as they would have if you hadn't been immunised.

Do I need the shingles vaccine if I've never had chickenpox?

Yes. The chances are that you may have had chickenpox at some point without knowing it. Some people have chickenpox without displaying any of the typical chickenpox symptoms.

Do I need the shingles vaccine if I've had shingles before?

Yes. Even if you've already had shingles, you could still get it again. The vaccine will reduce your risk of getting shingles again.

Are there any reasons why I shouldn't have the vaccine?

You shouldn't have the shingles vaccine if you:

  • have a weakened immune system (for example due to certain cancer treatments, blood disorders such as leukaemia or lymphoma, taking steroid tablets or you’ve had a transplant) – if you think this may apply, discuss this with your hospital specialist or GP
  • have had a severe reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine or to a previous dose of the chickenpox vaccine

Most medications can be taken at the same time as the shingles vaccine. Your GP will tell you whether any of this applies to you and can discuss any concerns.

Does the shingles vaccine contain pork (porcine) gelatine?

The shingles vaccine contains a small trace of pork gelatine. Gelatine's a common and essential ingredient in many medicines, including some vaccines.

Many faith groups, including Muslim and Jewish communities, have approved the use of gelatine-containing vaccines. It is, however, an individual choice whether or not to receive the shingles vaccine and we recognise that there'll be different opinions within different communities.

Currently, there's no alternative shingles vaccine that doesn't contain pork gelatine.

How do we know the vaccine's safe?

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. The vaccine has been given to millions of people worldwide.

Once they're in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the MHRA.

After the vaccine

After having the vaccine there may be side effects, but these are usually mild.

Side effects

Side effects are usually quite mild and don’t last very long. 1 in 10 people get symptoms, including headaches as well as redness or tenderness, where the injection was given.

If you have side effects that last for more than a few days, make an appointment to see your GP or practice nurse.

Most medications can be taken at the same time as the shingles vaccine. Ask your GP if you're taking any other medication and would like to check.

Where can I report suspected side effects?

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme.

This can be done by:

  • visiting the Yellow Card Scheme website
  • phoning the free Yellow Card hotline on 0808 100 3352 (available Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 2.00pm)

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the shingles vaccine, phone:

More about shingles immunisation

NHS Health Scotland have produced print, video and audio leaflets explaining the shingles vaccine in Scotland, why it's offered and when it's given.

Help protect yourself against shingles: is available in Easy Read English and other languages - including Polish, Mandarin (Simplified Chinese) and Arabic.

Shingles vaccine (BSL)

Protect yourself from shingles (audio)

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