Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Vaccination Programme

10:30 am

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

This is shingles awareness week. Shingles is a painful condition that is estimated to affect one in three people during their lifetime. It generally presents as a painful rash on one side of the body, a kind of a belt across the torso, but it can also be on the face and sometimes affect the eyes. Up to 30% of people who experience shingles develop nerve pain known as post-herpetic neuralgia that can last for months or, in rare cases, longer, which needs treatment with pharmaceutical drugs and so on. Around 10% to 25% of those have symptoms that affect the area around the eye, potentially leading to scarring and vision problems. Shingles is also associated with an increased risk of stroke and neurological conditions. It is important to diagnose and treat shingles early to reduce the risk of complications.

Anyone who has ever had chickenpox, which is many of us, can get shingles. It is basically caused by the successful reactivation of the VZV, or varicella zoster virus, that causes chickenpox. Some 90% of people are infected with that during the first three decades of life as chickenpox and already have the virus lying dormant, if you like. It generally reactivates itself primarily due to age-related decline in immunity or because an individual has a weakened immune system. Generally speaking, those who have it are over the age of 50. However, there are other factors associated with an increased risk, including Covid-19 infections, comorbidities such as COPD, asthma, diabetes, chronic renal disease, immunosuppression associated with an underlying disease such as cancer or arthritis or use of an immunosuppressive treatment. It can be prevented by vaccination.

The reason I bring this up is that it is shingles awareness week but, equally, because I got shingles in the Bank Holiday weekend of August 2020, right in the middle of lockdown and Covid. I think I may have had Covid very early on when we did not realise Covid was there and that may have helped. It is quite vicious in that it affects people mostly who are already immunosuppressed and not very well. I ask the Minister of State and obviously the Minister for Health, particularly, if we can bring in shingles vaccines, which are very successful. That will vastly reduce the number of people who might get shingles. I had to log on for the drug payment scheme and first pay €140 and then get the drugs. The drugs the State is paying for to treat shingles are expensive. I was also on, which is quite topical, pregabalin, or Lyrica, which is being talked about now as very dangerous drug, to deal with the post-herpetic neuralgia. I took it for a number of months and tried to get off it as fast as I could. I found it a horrible drug to use.

There is a real value in providing the vaccine. I am not saying to make it compulsory, but for people who are vulnerable and for people who would like to take it, it would be useful to give them that immunity and keep them safe, healthy and in the workforce. It would keep them from being sick, being off work, getting sick benefit and so on. Equally, they would not need to take the drugs for shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia. It is an important topic. I am glad to raise it and I hope I will get a positive response from the Minister of State on behalf of the Minister.


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