The Department of Health has given approval for GPs to vaccinate against shingles on the NHS for the first time, and has announced it will shortly make its decision on whether to go ahead with a national campaign for older people.
The latest DH advice says that GPs can vaccinate anyone against shingles if they make a judgment that it is clinically indicated and would be ‘beneficial for an individual patient’.
The decision paves the way for a much-delayed national vaccination programme in older people and comes after GPC concern that shingles vaccine would only be made available privately.
The Government’s independent vaccine advisory committee advised in 2010 that a national shingles vaccination programme for adults aged 70 to 79 years should be introduced provided that a licensed vaccine was available at a cost effective price.
Shortages of supply held up any decision over whether to proceed with the programme, but Pulse revealed in May that this had been resolved and ministers were considering whether the programme would be cost effective.
The DH will issue a statement ‘shortly’ on whether to go ahead with a national programme.
The latest Vaccine Update from the DH says: ‘We have received several enquiries about the prescribing of Zostavax vaccine in those aged 50 years and over to prevent shingles (herpes zoster).
Evidence provided to JCVI showed that a programme to vaccinate people aged below 65 years is unlikely to be cost effective (at an assumed price of £55 per dose).
‘However, if a GP makes a judgment that vaccination against shingles would be clinically indicated and beneficial for an individual patient, then Zostavax can be prescribed on the NHS.’
The update added: ‘The process for concluding whether the introduction of a shingles vaccination programme for those people aged 70-79 years can be provided at a cost effective price and that security of supply can be maintained is close to completion. The Department will issue a statement shortly.’
The latest edition of GPC News said the advice had come after the GPC had written to the DH outlining its concerns.
‘Following reports during the summer that, due to a shortage in supply, the Zostavax vaccine would only be available privately for patients, the GPC wrote to the Department of Health detailing its concerns over this arrangement.
‘The Department of Health has subsequently confirmed that if a GP makes a judgment that vaccination against shingles would be clinically indicated and beneficial for an individual patient, Zostavax can be prescribed on the NHS.’
Dr Douglas Fleming, the director of the RCGP’s Research and Surveillance Centre, said he was ‘strongly in favour’ of a national programme.
‘It will certainly happen but I don’t know when it will happen,’ he said. ‘There are vaccines out there but they haven’t been tested in the field in this country and I don’t know how good they are. We neither know the cost nor the effectiveness of the vaccine yet.’