Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by reactivation of latent varicella zoster virus. Varicella zoster is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Following initial infection, usually in childhood, the virus can lie inactive in the body’s nervous system. Reactivation of the virus can take place later in life, when the immune system has been weakened by:

  • age
  • stress
  • illness
  • immunosuppressant treatments such as for cancer

Shingles is characterised by a painful skin rash.

The main complication from shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), a long lasting neuropathic pain after the rash has disappeared. PHN can persist for months or years and the risk and severity increases with age. Its effect can be very debilitating.

More information on shingles can be found on the NHS Inform website.


For all infection prevention and control guidance visit the A-Z ​pathogens section of the National Infection and Prevention Control Manual.


Screening tool for contraindications for shingles vaccine

Shingles vaccine is a live attenuated vaccine and therefore some patient groups are contraindicated and unable to receive the vaccine.

The screening tool for contraindications for shingles vaccine may be used to aid identification of patients who are excluded from having it and includes explanatory notes for healthcare practitioners. The questions in the screening tool are designed to be completed by either the patient or the healthcare practitioner in a structured interview with the patient.

Please note that the screening tool is designed to help healthcare practitioners identify patients who may be excluded from having the shingles vaccine and doesn't replace clinical judgment.

Shingles vaccine programme annual reports

Read our shingles vaccine programme annual reports below:

Data and surveillance


In September 2013, a national shingles vaccination programme was introduced using Zostavax®. As Zostavax® is a live attenuated vaccine, it can't be given to patients who've a known primary or acquired immunodeficiency state, or patients who are receiving current immunosuppressive therapy including:

  • high-dose corticosteroids
  • biological therapies
  • combination therapies

The vaccine is offered routinely to those aged 70 years. Opportunistic vaccination is offered to eligible individuals aged 71 to 79 years who have not previously been vaccinated. For further information, see chapter 28a of the Green Book (external website).

Vaccine uptake

View the most recent vaccine uptake statistics.