Free shingles vaccine extended for seniors

Australians aged 71-79 years will continue to access free shingles vaccine, with the government extending the program for another two years.

Key Points

  • Shingles especially impacts older people and one in two people have had it.
  • Australian Government free vaccination program has been extended for another two years.
  • 1.2 million people aged 70-79 have received the free vaccination. 

Shingles is a serious disease usually affecting older people and can cause severe nerve pain that can last for months. The older you are when you get shingles, the greater your risk of developing more severe and long-lasting pain.  

150,000 cases of shingles occur in Australia each year and by 85 years of age, one in two Australians will have had it.

The cost to the national health budget is nearly $17 million dollars with 3,600 hospitalisations and 105,000 GP consultations. 

Free vaccination – extended

Vaccinating senior Australians is an important component of preventive medicine and is highly recommended for 60 to 79-year-olds.

If you're eligible, you can get the shingles vaccine for free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). The Australian Government has recently announced that people aged between 71-79 years will continue to be able to receive a free Zostavax® shingles vaccine, with the program being extended for another two years to 31 October 2023. 

What is shingles?

Caused by the same virus as chickenpox, shingles is a painful rash which can blister, leaving behind lasting nerve pain for months afterwards. It is very serious and can be particularly debilitating for older people.

One in three adults are at risk of developing the virus in their lifetime.

Announcing the funding extension, federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said the free vaccination program, originally announced in 2016, had vaccinated more than 1.2 million seniors.

However, it seems a lower than expected take-up of the vaccination meant there is a need for a ‘catch-up’, so more people could receive the free vaccine and protect them from contracting shingles.

“Since November 2016, our government has invested over $300 million to ensure older Australians can continue to access this life changing vaccine,” Minister Hunt said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions have meant that many Australians have not been able to access a Zostavax vaccine, and this extension will ensure they need not miss out.”

The Zostavax program includes a time-limited catch-up for people aged 71 to 79 years old, who missed the vaccine at 70 years of age, which was due to expire on 31 October 2021.

The vaccine will continue to be provided free for people aged 71-79 for a further 2 years. 

Shingles symptoms

Look out for:

  • A tingling, burning sensation in the area (this is where a painful blistering rash will appear)
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Discomfort when looking at bright lights. 

Symptoms can occur for several days before the rash appears. The rash can last about 10 to 15 days. It often makes a stripe or belt-like pattern on one side of the face or body.

You can learn more about the free immunisation program on the Department of Health website

Source: Ministers Department of Health