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Shingles vaccine

Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus which causes chicken pox.

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Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus which causes chicken pox. Unlike other infectious diseases you don’t catch it from someone else. Most people had chickenpox when they were young. The virus that caused it can stay in your body for the rest of your life without you knowing it is there. The virus can then become active again later in life. It's not known exactly why the shingles virus is reactivated at a later stage in life, but most cases are thought to be caused by having lowered immunity (protection against infections and diseases) which may be due to age, illness, stress or medication.

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of an infection of a nerve and the area of skin that it serves, resulting in clusters of painful, itchy, fluid-filled blisters. The fluid from these blisters can spread chickenpox to those who have not had it.

If you have shingles try to avoid:

  • pregnant women who have not had chickenpox before
  • people with a weakened immune system - like someone having chemotherapy
  • babies less than 1 month old - unless it's your own baby, as they should be protected from the virus by your immune system

Shingles is most common in adults over 70 years. It's estimated that around one in every four people will have at least one episode of shingles during their life and around 1in every 1,000 cases in adults over 70 is fatal.

More information: NHS 111 Wales - Shingles (external site)


Eligibility for the vaccine

People become eligible for the free shingles vaccine when they turn 70 years of age, and remain eligible for the vaccine until their 80th birthday.

The shingles vaccine helps to protect you by boosting your immunity and reducing your risk of getting shingles. If you do go on to have shingles, your symptoms may be milder and the illness shorter.

NHS 111 Wales - Who can have a shingles vaccine? (external site)

If you have any questions or require further information about the Shingles vaccine speak to your GP or Practice Nurse


About the vaccine

There are two shingles vaccines in use in Wales.

Zostavax  is most commonly used in Wales. It is a live vaccine. You require one dose which is normally given as a single injection into the muscle of the upper arm.

Shingrix   is used for those who have weakened immune systems (severely immunosuppressed). It is not a live vaccine. If given Shingrix you will require two doses, two months apart. It is normally given as an injection into the muscle of the upper arm.

If you would like to learn more about these vaccines, access the patient leaflets:

If you're eligible, you can get the vaccine at any time of year. The next time you speak to a healthcare professional ask them about the shingles vaccine.

Side effects of the shingles vaccine

Side effects are usually quite mild and don’t last very long. One in 10 people get symptoms including:

  • Headaches
  • muscle aches and pains and
  • fatigue.

Some people experience:

  • Redness
  • Tenderness at the site of injection.

Other reactions are uncommon or rare. For more information on common, uncommon and rare side effects, see the patient leaflets:

If you are concerned about symptoms call NHS 111 Wales (external site). Calls to NHS 111 Wales are free from landlines and mobile phones.

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card scheme. You can do this online at or by calling the Yellow Card scheme hotline on 0800 731 6789 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).  


Information for the public

If you would like to learn more about the shingles vaccine or the diseases it protects against, a number of information resources are available to help. You can also call NHS 111 or your GP practice for advice if you have any questions.


To order copies of the leaflets, visit the Health Information Resources page.

Further information

NHS 111 Wales - Shingles (external site)