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The Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler (left) announced free shingles vaccinations. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Kelly Barnes

Free shingles vaccination program

Nearly five million older and immunocompromised Australians will be given free access to a shingles vaccine starting from 1 November.

Shingles, which is also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the same virus as chickenpox and presents itself as a painful, blistering rash on one side of a person's face or body.

This lasts 10 to 15 days; however, one in five people develop severe nerve pain known as post-herpetic neuralgia that can last months, years or for life.

One in three people will develop shingles at some point in their life, with the risk increasing with age, and most common in those aged 60 and over.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said the government was investing $826.8 million to provide the Shingrix vaccine.

"I'm told by hospital operators that increasingly there are presentations by older Australians to the hospital because of complications driven by shingles," Mr Butler said.

"This is a very serious public health menace that we can front in Australia."

"This investment will ensure nearly five million Australians can get free protection from shingles and the very painful nerve damage that it causes."

National Seniors welcomed the news, especially since they had been advocating for older Australians to be protected from shingles since 2014.

A campaign reported that shingles had affected the ability to work of 32 per cent of Australians over 50s.

The $560 dose provides around a decade of protection, with the Health Minister revealing the stronger vaccine, Shingrix, will replace the current Zostavax.

Dr Pravin Hissaria, senior clinical immunologist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, encouraged those who were eligible to talk to their GP or health practitioner as soon as possible.

"The uptake should be a lot higher because it does not have lots of precautions that need to be taken with the previously available vaccine," Dr Hissaria told the ABC.

"It is to be taken in two doses, preferably two months apart, but it can be up to six months apart."

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