New vaccine available to safeguard against shingles


Maxine Evans, 56, was driving home from a Christmas holiday in Port Fairy, Victoria, when she started to feel a strange pain in her back.

The pain began to feel itchy but she ignored it, blaming the feelings on menopause.

“Over the next few days, I became very sick. I had developed a few bumps on my back that began to spread around to my stomach and onto my chest,” Maxine recalls.

“When I showed the bumps to my friend who works as a nurse she said to me ‘I think you have shingles’.”

Shingles is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the body, causing a painful rash that most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso.

The often debilitating condition can affect up to one in three people at some stage in their lives, and this risk increases with age.

Unfortunately for Maxine the doctor told her it was too late to take any medication as she had missed the window for treatment and was now suffering from postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a condition that affects nerve fibres and skin, causing burning pain that lasts long after the rash and blisters of shingles disappear.

“The pain is the most excruciating thing I have ever felt. It feels like you’re a voodoo doll and someone is stabbing you with a hot knife constantly,” said Maxine, who is sharing her story to encourage others to get vaccinated against shingles.

GSK Australia has just released a new vaccine called Shingrix, now available for Australians above the age of 50.

Australians are likely to pay between $250-$300 per dose, with two doses required for a full course of treatment.

Infectious disease physician and clinical virologist Professor Tony Cunningham.

“Shingles and PHN have had a huge impact on my everyday life,” adds Maxine.

“The pain has made wearing clothes almost impossible, and has stopped me from being able to go to work.

“The pain is debilitating and it’s taken away so much of my happiness. I’ve gone from being a bubbly person who is outgoing and enjoying life, to someone who sits at home and cries.

“I wouldn’t wish shingles or PHN on anyone.”

According to infectious disease physician and clinical virologist Professor Tony Cunningham, the availability of additional options to help prevent shingles and associated complications are welcome.

Shingles can be very painful. The pain associated with shingles is often described as burning, shooting or stabbing,” said the professor.

“The acute pain can last for between two to four weeks, with some people potentially experiencing complications and chronic pain for months.

“Doctors never like to see their patients in pain. Shingles can be difficult to treat once the symptoms break out, so vaccines can play an important role in helping reduce the impact of the infection here in Australia.”

Meanwhile, Maxine is now on a pain management plan, but isn’t sure how long she will need to be on it.

“They’ve told me my shingles will do its thing in its own time. It’s extremely hard because now I can’t set any goals or plan anything and no one knows how long it’s going to take.”