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Shingles vaccine shortage slows rollout


Free Shingrix is great news for seniors but you’ll need to book an appointment now as doctors are struggling with supply issues.

  • Health
  • Read Time: 4 mins

How to get vaccinated against shingles


The new vaccine is a single vaccine, not a combination vaccine (two or more different vaccines in one dose).

Shingrix consists of two doses given two to six months apart in healthy people, or one to two months apart in people who are immunocompromised. 

Find product information and consumer medicine information for Shingrix and other shingles vaccines from the Therapeutic Goods Administration. 

Click here to find out where to get vaccinated. 

Nearly five million Australians are now eligible for the new Shingles vaccine, including those aged 65-plus. But early reports are that seniors are having to wait as demand is outstripping supply.

The free Shingrix vaccine is available to:

  • Adults aged 65 years and over.

  • First Nations people aged 50 years and over.

  • Immunocompromised people aged 18 years and over with conditions placing them at high risk of herpes zoster (shingles) infection.

Shingrix is said to be much more effective than the previous vaccine. It is about 90% effective in older Australians in preventing shingles, as against 40% for older Australians with the existing vaccine, and is much longer lasting.

The $800 million rollout of the vaccine is good news because experts predict one third of all Australians will develop shingles in their lifetime, and 20% of them will suffer severe nerve pain.

However, in early November 2023 doctors’ associations were reporting “extensive delays” with GPs having to turn patients away.

One NSW GP practice was only able to order its vaccines the night before the program began and could only access 30 vaccines for the month.

“We have 2500 patients over the age of 65, and a number of patients with transplants and blood cancer,” said Dr Martina Gleeson from the Caringbah Family Practice in southern Sydney.

“We have told all our patients who are eligible on the basis of age that we won’t be able to give it to them until we have prioritised our highly immunosuppressed patients, and we will be actively recalling our people with transplants, and our people with blood cancer, and doing them first.

“It’s like being back in the COVID days where you have to prioritise some people ahead of others because you’ve been given inadequate supplies.”

Priorities


Doctors are having to prioritise who gets the vaccine and are concerned that some patients could catch shingles before supplies arrive.

“And then it’s the GPs who have to decide whether the healthy 65-year-old has the priority over the 74-year-old with a disease, or the 85-year-old who’s been waiting for a vaccine,” one doctor said.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) reports the Department of Health and Aged Care (DoH) cannot say how many vaccines it has at its disposal but plans to distribute 1.6 million doses to providers before 30 June 2024, including 500,000 doses before the end of 2023.

The National Immunisation Program said “… this is an ongoing program, there is no urgency for members of the public to be vaccinated. Members of the public are encouraged to call ahead to check vaccine availability for all vaccines on the NIP.”

The RACGP is calling for a more streamlined system and better cooperation between state and federal governments to ensure patients have equal access to treatment.

Related reading: RACGP, Federal Health Department, NSW Health Department, National Seniors

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