June 2, 2010
By David Gutierrez
A British government committee has recommended vaccinating everyone between the ages of 70 and 79 against shingles.
“I welcome the recommendation that we should look for a cost-effective vaccine,” said Gillian Merron, minister for public health. “A vaccination program would be good news for those in their 70s. It would improve quality of life by offering protection against this illness.”
Shingles is caused by infection with the virus Herpes varicella zoster, the same virus responsible for chicken pox. In shingles, which occurs later in life, the virus infects a nerve and the surrounding skin, causing highly painful blisters that may last for months. In 30 percent of patients, chronic pain persists indefinitely even after the virus is cleared out. Other long-term side effects include scarring and vision loss.
Shingles was considered responsible for 100 deaths among the elderly in England and Wales in 2008. An estimated one in four adults contracts the infection at some point during their lifetimes.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) conducted an investigation into the disease and concluded that everyone between the ages of 70 and 79 should be vaccinated.
“This age group was proposed as the duration of protection, based on current data, is estimated to be 7.5 years and infection is more severe and the burden of illness is greater in this age group,” the committee said.
The JCVI did not recommend widespread use of the chickenpox vaccine in children, due to concerns that it can actually increase the risk of shingles later in life.
The committee’s investigation was not triggered by any particular concern about shingles. Its recommendation will now go before the Department of Health, which will decide if it is cost effective.
The only shingles/chickenpox vaccine on the market is Zostavax, made by Merck. If the recommendation is adopted by the British government, four million would be encouraged to receive the shot at once.