Rotavirus vaccination for babies announced
10th November 2012 - Babies under four months old are to be offered vaccination against rotavirus, a common cause of gastroenteritis and diarrhoea in babies and children.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has called the decision an "important advance".
Rotavirus is highly infectious and the bug is responsible for around 140,000 diarrhoea cases a year in under fives. The Department of Health says it can also mean being admitted to hospital in serious cases for nearly one in 10 of those who get it in the UK.
The new vaccination programme is planned to begin in September 2013. The vaccine will be given by mouth (orally) as two separate doses of liquid drops to all children starting when they are two months old, at the same time as existing vaccinations.
This is the second major child vaccination announcement this year. In July, the NHS announced plans to offer flu vaccination for all two-to-17 year olds by 2014. Flu jabs are already available for children in at-risk groups, such as those with asthma, heart conditions or cerebral palsy. A nasal flu vaccine will be used rather than an injection with a needle.
Rotavirus can be a serious illness in babies and children, causing gastroenteritis - inflammation of the stomach and bowel.
Common symptoms of gastroenteritis are:
- Diarrhoea and sometimes vomiting as well
- Fever of 38C (100.4F) or above
- Tummy ache
The symptoms of diarrhoea usually clear up in five to seven days, and in most cases no longer than two weeks.
Very young children are at the highest risk of life threatening complications, such as severe dehydration.
Evidence for rotavirus vaccination
Rotavirus vaccines are routinely given to children in the US and many other countries. The Department of Health says there's evidence rotavirus-related hospital admissions for young children can be cut by more than two thirds through vaccination.
It is hoped that the vaccine will halve the number of vomiting and diarrhoea cases caused by rotavirus and lead to 70% fewer hospital admissions.
The programme will use a brand of vaccine called Rotarix. The programme will cost the NHS around £25 million a year but that's balanced by expected savings in hospital stays, GP and A&E visits and fewer calls to NHS advice lines.
The delay between the announcement and the start of the programme is to give vaccine manufacturers time to produce enough doses for UK distribution.
In a statement, Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation says: "Many people think of diarrhoea as something that all children get and that you have to put up with. But there is a way to protect children from this. I’d encourage all parents of young children to accept this vaccine when the programme begins next year."
Reacting to the announcement in an emailed statement, Dr David Elliman, immunisation specialist of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says: "This is an important advance as whilst rotavirus does not cause many deaths in the UK, it does cause a huge amount of suffering. Rotavirus affects large numbers of under-fives causing them diarrhoea for a few days. This vaccine will mean less pressure both on distressed parents who have to care for their children and of course the GPs and hospital services who are treating them.
This is a vaccine that has been used for some years in the US, so though new to us there is a large body of experience showing that it is safe and effective."