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Shingles vaccine scheme for elderly is launched

A vaccination programme to help protect older people from shingles has been launched in Northern Ireland.

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus in a person who has previously had chicken pox. It is not known what causes the virus to reactivate but this is usually associated with becoming older.

The incidence of shingles increases with age and about a quarter of adults will get it at some point in their life. In some cases it can be fatal.

Health Minister Edwin Poots yesterday announced the introduction of the new programme for all people aged 70.

A catch-up programme for those aged 71 to 79 will also be introduced over the next few years beginning this October with all 79-year-olds.

The programme officially begins in October and it is estimated that in Northern Ireland around 21,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in the first year. Mr Poots said: "Shingles is a nasty illness that causes a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters. This vaccination programme will help protect those most at risk. I would encourage all eligible individuals to avail of this vaccine when the programme begins."

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said: "Shingles is treatable with antiviral drugs but can be extremely debilitating and sufferers may be hospitalised, with many suffering chronic pain lasting up to six months or in some cases years.

"This is only partially treatable with painkillers. This programme will help to prevent many people suffering the after-effects of shingles."

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