My octogenarian mother has a painful rash caused by shingles. She is in a lot of pain, so I've decided to fly home on Monday and look after her. Meanwhile, I've been finding out about shingles.
I already knew that you can't get shingles unless you have had chicken pox, but I didn't know that there is a vaccine for chicken-pox, which is given to children in the USA and Canada, but not in the UK.
The rationale for not giving the vaccine in the UK is that it would increase the number of shingles cases in adults. This is because, once you've had chicken-pox, further exposure to the virus as you gets older acts like a booster vaccine and gives you protection against shingles. Therefore if all children were vaccinated, adults who'd had the disease would not come into contact with the virus and so would be more likely to get shingles.
I'm not sure about the ethics of the British chicken-pox vaccine policy. According to this Daily Mail article, more elderly people die of shingles than children and young adults die of chicken-pox. But is it really right to unnecessarily expose younger generations to the disease to protect the older generation, particularly since more than half of elderly people will get shingles anyway?
The British position is even more dubious now that there is a vaccine against shingles. It is not yet available in the UK, but in Canada it is available to the over-60's.
I am sure of one thing, I'll be making sure we've had our shingles vaccinations in Alberta before we retire to the UK.
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