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The National Shingles Vaccination Program, the first major new vaccine program introduced for older Australians in more than a decade, has been well received, a National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) evaluation report has found. The program, which commenced in November 2016, provides free shingles vaccination, using Zostavax®, to adults aged 70 years, with a catch-up for those aged 71–79 years funded until 2021.
The evaluation examined the implementation of the shingles vaccination program and also assessed vaccine coverage and safety data. Feedback from key stakeholders, primary healthcare providers and the public generally found that the program was well-promoted, well-delivered and the vaccine was a popular addition to the vaccination schedule for older Australians. However, there were reported vaccine supply issues in the initial months of the program rollout.
Reported shingles vaccination coverage, as recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR), in the first 17 months of the program was relatively low (33.9% for 70-year-olds and 25.8% for the catch-up program for 71–79-year-olds). This may be partly attributable to under-reporting to the AIR and vaccine shortage in the initial months of the program implementation. However, coverage was higher in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The evaluation confirmed the high safety profile of the vaccine when used as indicated, but emphasised the need to educate providers more about not vaccinating immunocompromised people with Zostavax®.
With flu season fast approaching, it is a good opportunity for providers to co-administer shingles and influenza vaccinations in the target and catch-up age groups if they have not been previously vaccinated for shingles, while considering vaccine contraindications, particularly immunocompromising conditions.
Providers are reminded to report all vaccinations to the AIR to support accurate immunisation coverage assessment.
More detail is available in the Evaluation of the National Shingles Vaccination Program Process and early impact evaluation final report.
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