Pensioners are being urged to protect themselves against shingles with a free vaccination as part of a new NHS campaign for 2017.

Local GPs across Surrey and Sussex are offering the injection to people in their 70s as part of the NHS shingles immunisation campaign for 2017 – 2018 which began on September 1.

Shingles is an itchy, painful, burning group of blisters caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus which commonly affects one area of the body and can last up to four weeks.

Dr Max Kammerling, consultant in public health medicine and screening and immunisation lead for Surrey and Sussex said: “As people get older their immune system naturally weakens which is why those aged 70 and over are more likely to get shingles.

“Shingles can be very painful and debilitating and lead to health problems long after the initial rash has disappeared. It can also be fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop it.

“I would encourage all patients who are eligible to take up the offer from their GP surgery and get vaccinated against the virus.”

By the end of July, just over half of all eligible older patients across Surrey and Sussex had received the vaccination but now the NHS is encouraging everyone who is offered to take it up.

Some people can suffer from the pain for several months after its first diagnosis and potentially years even after the rash has disappeared.