Federal Minister for Health and Ageing announces free Shingrix® vaccination for some People with HIV

Last Sunday the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Mr Mark Butler announced that almost 5 million Australians will have free access to the Shingrix® vaccine, from the 1st of November under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). 

Shingrix® is safer and provides superior protection against shingles than previous vaccines, of up to 10 years of protection against shingles and PHN (Post Herpetic Neuralgia), in adults 50 years and older. 

What is shingles?

Shingles is caused by varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After people have chicken pox in childhood the virus remains ‘dormant,’ or inactive, in nerve tissue.  Almost 95% of Australians have ‘dormant’ varicella-zoster virus, and the rates increase with HIV, and around 98.5% of PHIV (People With HIV) in Australia have dormant varicella-zoster.   

Shingles can present in different severities, from a mild tingling rash to a painful blistering rash on one side of the face or body that can last up to 15 days. In the initial phase of shingles, the rash can be ‘weepy’ (oozing a small amount of clear liquid) and can spread to other people who have never had chick pox, especially older people and others with potentially lowered immunity living in the same home, including PHIV. 

Around 1 in 5 people can go on to develop a painful condition called Post Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN) which can last for several years, resulting in severe and chronic pain as well as fatigue. The risk of PHN increases with age and other factors that affect immunity, including HIV. 

PHN can cause loss of work, reduced ability to perform everyday activities and requires treatment with antiviral medication, such as valaciclovir and famciclovir. These antiviral medications are most effective when started as soon as possible after the shingles rash first appears.  PHIV with PHN may also need to take strong pain relief for extended periods. 

Who can get free Shingrix? 

Shingrix® usually costs up to $560 for two doses and will now be free to:

  • all Australians over the age of 65,
  • all First Nations people over the age of 50,
  • and certain people aged over 18 with compromised immunity, ie:
    • haemopoietic stem cell transplant recipients
    • solid organ transplant recipients
    • anyone with a history (at any time) of haematological malignancy (leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma)
    • advanced or untreated HIV (CD4 count below 200)

PHIV should ask their treating doctor if they should have the Shingrix vaccinations, and if they may fit any of these criteria.

What if I do not fit these criteria?  

The two-course shot of Shingrix is currently only available privately for those over 50 years old and costs up to $560 for both doses. Many PHIV are choosing to pay full price to have the vaccinations, and many have been able to claim some of the cost through their private Health Insurance. Check with your Health Insurance provider to see if you can claim any of the cost.

NAPWHA is currently working with key stakeholders to have Shingrix available free to all PHIV, and we will be able to report more after the relevant government bodies meet later this year to review submissions.

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