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Government advisers consider shingles vaccine for elderly

The Government's vaccine advisers are considering the implications of asking GPs to vaccinate the elderly against shingles.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is awaiting more research on the efficacy and costs of the newly licensed varicella-zoster vaccine before making a policy decision.

Latest research by the RCGP has shown that a single vaccination policy at 65 years of age was the most cost-effective option in men and women.

Study leader Dr Douglas Fleming, director of the RCGP Birmingham Research Unit and a GP in the city, said shingles infection caused 'significant hospitalisation' in the elderly and had a 'strong impact' on NHS resources.

The study looked at the incidence of shingles by gender and age over a seven-year period. The RCGP researchers applied three different vaccine efficacy models to patients at age 50, 60 and 65.

Whichever model was chosen, the results showed a single vaccine at 65 was the most favourable option.

Using a two-dose strategy at 50 and 70 'substantially' increased the number of cases prevented compared with a single vaccination policy, but the cost per case prevented increased by 30 per cent.

The study, which will shortly be published in Vaccine, showed the likelihood of shingles infection over a lifetime in unvaccinated patients aged 45 was 22 per cent for males and 32 per cent for females.

Dr Fleming said the decision on who to vaccinate would depend on the vaccine price.'If it is under £50 then I think there is a good case for vaccinating at 50 and 70 years of age.'

JCVI chair Professor Michael Langman said he looked forward to seeing the results. He added: 'The varicella-zoster issue crops up all the time.'

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