Government rolls out free shingles vaccine

Michelle Wisbey

9/10/2023 2:46:33 PM

Five million older and vulnerable Australians will have access to the new, and more effective, Shingrix vaccine from next month.

Doctor giving elderly patients a vaccine.
One in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime, and 20% of those with shingles will develop severe nerve pain.

Every Australian aged over 65 will be offered free protection against shingles from 1 November, under an $800 million immunisation investment.
On Sunday, Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler announced a free recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV, sold as Shingrix) will be made available under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
RZV is more effective than its predecessor and provides around 10 years of protection and usually costs up to $560.

Those five million people now eligible include older Australians, as well as First Nations people aged over 50 years, and immunocompromised people 18 years and over at high risk of herpes zoster infection.

RZV will replace the live-attenuated varicella zoster virus vaccine (sold as Zostavax) on the NIP, following advice from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
Minister Butler said the vaccine is the world’s best and described the virus as ‘a very serious public health menace’.
‘Hospital operators have said to me that shingles and issues associated with shingles among older Australians is presenting in their hospitals with increasing frequency,’ he said.
‘[RZV] is much more effective, about 90% effective for older Australians in preventing shingles, compared to 40% for older Australians with the existing vaccine.’
GP and Immunisation Coalition Chair Dr Rod Pearce welcomed the announcement, saying one of RZV’s advantages is that it is not a live vaccine, and so it can be given to those with suppressed immunity.
‘There are a whole range of options that now become possible and it’s important to rethink, and have new conversations with patients, because we can now think about [shingles] differently and we can do something about it,’ he told newsGP.
In May, The Federal Government allocated $446 million for RZV to replace the less effective live-attenuated varicella zoster virus vaccine (Zostavax), a move welcomed by the RACGP.
But Dr Pearce said, moving forward, governments need to work harder to ensure world-class vaccines are available sooner, because Australia is currently lagging behind in its offerings.
‘The value of vaccines is often underestimated in Australia because when we accept them, we depreciate them more than any other OECD country,’ he said.
‘The ongoing challenge for Australia is that we’ve got a small market and when new vaccines come in, we need to value them properly so that vaccines, such as this one, actually get to Australia earlier because it’s been seven or eight years since it was recommended internationally as to go-to vaccine and it’s only just arrived.
‘The challenge for us in the future is to make sure we value vaccines properly, and we’re conscious that we’re a small market, so if we don’t do that, the vaccine won’t be available in Australia.’
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime.

Around 20% of those with shingles will develop severe nerve pain which can become permanent.
Royal Adelaide Hospital Senior Clinical Immunologist Associate Professor Pravin Hissaria said shingles is a ‘significant burden’ on Australia’s healthcare system.
‘I would definitely urge all elderly Australians after 1 November to talk with their GPs or health practitioners, and I’d definitely try to get this jab as soon as possible.’
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National Immunisation Program shingles Shingrix vaccination


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Dr Stewart James Jackson   10/10/2023 6:33:05 AM

Will we have supply? People are enquiring already. Another huge vaccination program for GP’s to deliver. I am tired.

Dr Martina Mary Gleeson   10/10/2023 8:03:19 AM

Let's hope adequate vaccine supplies will be available to meet demand. Not like the 10 doses per month of Zostavax we have been dealing with for years for our 12-doctor practice

Dr Alexander David Traill   10/10/2023 7:51:01 PM

So we were told in May this year Shingrix would be free for 70 year old persons ONLY and patients who could get Zostavax should not wait for Shingrix. Now suddenly it is for everyone 65 and older. Another government communication balls up. Guaranteed there will be vaccine shortages…..

Dr Anna Clare Carswell   14/10/2023 3:08:43 PM

What is "older Australians" what about those who have already has zostavax?