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The Australian Federal Government has approved free access to a more effective vaccine for older and immunocompromised citizens starting next month. This significant development will see the inclusion of the non-live vaccine, Shingrix, in the National Immunisation Program (NIP) to combat herpes zoster (HZ) and post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), marking the first time a non-live vaccine has been added to the NIP for shingles prevention.
It’s important to note that non-live vaccines, like Shingrix, do not contain live viruses, making them incapable of replicating in the body and causing disease, even in individuals with weakened immune systems. The decision to replace the existing Zostavax vaccine with Shingrix on the NIP was based on recommendations from the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler announced this move, involving an investment of $826.8 million by the Federal Government to provide Shingrix under the NIP. During a press conference in Adelaide, he emphasized the increasing hospitalizations of older Australians due to shingles-related complications, calling shingles a serious public health concern that Australia can now effectively address.
Clinical trials have shown that Shingrix is highly effective. In adults aged 50 to 69 with healthy immune systems. It demonstrated a 97% effectiveness in preventing shingles, while in those aged 70 and above, it showed a 91% effectiveness rate.
Eligibility for the shingles Shingrix vaccination under the NIP includes:
- Individuals aged 65 and older.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals aged 50 and older.
- Immunocompromised individuals aged 18 and above with conditions deemed ‘high risk’ for shingles. These conditions include haemopoietic stem cell transplant, solid organ transplant, haematological malignancy, and advanced or untreated HIV.
Giulia Jones, CEO of Painaustralia, highlighted the excruciating pain experienced by shingles sufferers, often described as the worst they’ve ever endured. Many of these individuals are already dealing with pain due to other health issues, and if complications arise, their quality of life can deteriorate significantly.
Honorary Professor Robert Booy, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney, praised the Government’s decision to include Shingrix in the NIP, emphasising the seriousness of shingles and the potential for long-lasting effects. He pointed out that post-herpetic neuralgia, in particular, can lead to persistent pain long after the rash and blisters have disappeared. This move is a positive step forward in assisting vulnerable Australians in their battle against shingles. To find out more including where to get your free vaccination, click here.
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