GPs will be able to offer 78-year-olds the shingles vaccination from September, under plans for the national campaign unveiled by Public Health England this week.
The move will add 78-year-olds to the national programme to routinely vaccinate 70 and 79 year olds introduced last year.
However, any patients aged 70 eligible for the 2013/2014 campaign who fail to get the jab by the end of August will no longer be eligible from September, PHE said.
The announcement comes as GPs continue to face restrictions on the number of orders they can place for the shingles vaccine, Zostavax, following severe shortages in vaccine that dogged the campaign in its first few months last year.
Initially GPs were meant to offer eligible patients the shingles vaccine at the same time as they received their flu jab, but shortages of the vaccine meant some patients had to be asked to come back at a later date, with centrally held stocks running out intermittently between October and December.
Despite the vaccine supply problems, figures for the first five months of the campaign showed GPs managed to vaccinate 46.6% of eligible 70-year-olds and 45.5% of 79-year-olds by 28 February this year – with some areas achieving over 50% uptake in both age groups.
However, some GP critics questioned the value of the campaign, with difficulties accessing the vaccine compounded by doubts about its cost-effectiveness for the NHS.
PHE said it was ‘pleased’ with uptake in the 2013/2014 campaign and that the vaccine supply problems had been resolved, so it expected uptake to be higher next year.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of vaccinations at PHE, said: ‘‘We are pleased with the uptake of both the new shingles programmes and reassured from analysing the data that uptake has continued to increase since the end of December – so we expect to achieve higher uptake by 31 August 2014 when the next annual programme begins.’
Practices are currently still limited to ordering a maximum of 20 doses of Zostavax per week, but a PHE spokesperson told Pulse it has a good stock of vaccine available and ‘the cap has been maintained to ensure equity of distribution and control of the stock to prevent any further supply issues’.
A spokesperson for Sanofi Pasteur MSD, which manufactures Zostavax, said it was confident it can deliver the shingles vaccine doses needed for the extension of the scheme to 78-year-olds.
A spokesperson said: ‘We are on track with shingles vaccine deliveries. Further, there are additional doses of shingles vaccine available, should they be required.’