Elderly should vaccinate against shingles

KIRSTY MCMURRAY
Last updated 05:00 24/05/2013

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Elderly people should be getting revaccinated against chickenpox to prevent getting shingles, a visiting Nobel Laureate says.

Australian professor Peter Doherty came to speak in Taranaki yesterday as part of a New Zealand lecture tour organised by Massey University in celebration of 50 years of veterinary education.

He told the Taranaki Daily News it was not especially worrying that stocks of a chickenpox vaccine have been completely depleted after an unexpected rush by parents to get their children immunised as it is not a terribly serious disease.

Yesterday it was reported drug company GlaxoSmithKline notified medical centres throughout the country that the Varilrix vaccine would be temporarily out of stock for the next few weeks.

Prof Doherty said it was perhaps even more important that elderly people were revaccinated because the virus retreats into nerves where it lies dormant but can be reactivated as the immune system deteriorates with age.

"I've been meaning to get it myself, I don't want to get shingles."

He is a strong supporter of vaccinations and said fear, distrust of authority and misinformation were key reasons people refused.

"You get these people who go on a family holiday to Indonesia and they haven't had their children vaccinated and they pick something up and bring it back," he said.

"It's really terrible. It's really, really stupid."

Prof Doherty, who initially trained as a vet, jointly won the Nobel Medicine Prize in 1996 for discovering how the immune system protects against viruses.

He said his research now revolves largely around the flu, which he said is the biggest and most dangerous virus around today, but he has also studied other types of virus including Sars and bird flu.

Yesterday he spoke on a vast range of topics including viruses, vaccines, rapid air travel and the greater risk of pandemic infection, global hunger and climate change.

He said modern medicine and science had advanced so far he thought it unlikely there would ever be a pandemic equal to the plague again.

"I'm doubtful we are going to have any horrific pandemic."

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