‘No one warned us’: Man urges people to get free vaccination

Barry Thompson feels for his wife, Catherine, who was struck down with shingles in May. He is holding a photo of Catherine's shingles rash, which blistered.
Barry Thompson feels for his wife, Catherine, who was struck down with shingles in May. He is holding a photo of Catherine's shingles rash, which blistered.

After seeing his wife suffer the affects of shingles for more than three months, Barry Thompson wants to stop others from experiencing the same debilitating illness. 

The 76-year-old wants people to know if you are aged between 70 and 80, you are eligible for a free shingles vaccine. 

“No one warned us or told us we should get it,” he said. 

“My wife and I didn’t even know about it until she got shingles. 

“It is too late for her because you can’t get it until 12 months after the side affects of shingles stop, but I got it as soon as I found out about it.

“It is a one-off vaccination and it is pain free, I didn’t even feel it.” 

Mr Thompson’s wife, Catherine, 73, still suffers from the illness and often spends days in bed. 

“She has good days and bad days,” Mr Thompson said. 

“Somedays she may get up, do washing and then have to go back to bed because she is warn out. 

“It can knock you very quickly and is painful.” 

What started as a pain in the neck, quickly turned into a blistered rash on his wife’s neck and face.

“My wife had the shingles rash, which blistered, right down the side of her face and her neck,” Mr Thompson said. 

“I feel so sorry for her. It is an awful thing. The rash only lasted about four or five days but she is still in horrible pain.

“She has been on sleeping tablets and other medication to try and get over the pain but she still suffers.”

Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District Director Public Health Curtis Gregory said shingles was caused by the varicella zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox.

“It occurs because of a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, which remains in the nerve cells of the body after an attack of chickenpox,” he said. 

“Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles later in life, since the virus lies dormant in the body. More than 95 per cent of the Australian population aged over 30 years has had chickenpox.”

Mr Gregory said shingles caused a “painful rash”, which turned into blisters, and could affect any part of the body. 

“Sometimes, the pain doesn’t go away once the rash has cleared,” he said. 

“This is called post-herpetic neuralgia and is more common when the shingles rash appears on the face, rather than the body.”

The risk of shingles increased with aged, with those at the most risk being adults over 70 years old. 

“It is due to this increased risk that the shingles vaccine (Zostavax) is free for all adults aged 70 years through the National Immunisation Program,” Mr Gregory said. 

“A catch-up dose for adults aged 71-79 years of age will also be available until October 2021 to enable those already over 70 in the higher risk group to get the vaccine.

“The efficacy of the vaccine drops markedly for people older than 80 and while there may be some individual benefit it is not as effective across the whole age group.

“There is also some efficacy for people in their 60s and the vaccine is available for purchase. People should talk to their GPs for individual advice.”