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Rotavirus vaccination for babies FAQs

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
man holding infant

Newborns are offered a vaccination to protect them against rotavirus, a highly contagious, common cause of gastroenteritis and diarrhoea in babies and children.

Read our FAQs to find out more about this vaccine.

What does the vaccine protect against?

The vaccine protects against rotavirus infection which can affect anyone but which is the most common cause of gastroenteritis ( vomiting and diarrhoea) in children under 5.

Public Health England (PHE) says rotavirus is a highly infectious and unpleasant illness that affects thousands of young children each year. While most recover within a few days, nearly 1 in 5 will need to see their doctor, and 1 in 10 will need treatment in hospital for complications of the infection such as dehydration.

Although good hygiene measures can help prevent spread of the disease, PHE says the best way to protect your baby from catching rotavirus is to get them vaccinated.

How is it given?

The vaccine used is called Rotarix. It comes in liquid form and is given orally to babies at 2 and 3 months of age when they attend for their first and second routine childhood immunisations.

The first dose must be given before a baby is 15 weeks old, and the second dose completing the course by 24 weeks.

How does it work?

Rotarix is a live vaccine, which means the virus in the vaccine has been weakened so that it doesn’t cause the illness. Instead it helps a baby build up immunity to it, so that next time it comes into contact with the virus it can fight it off.

How safe is it?

Rotarix has been shown to protect against gastroenteritis due to around 90% of the rotavirus strains that are in circulation in the UK.

It has been used extensively in other countries, including the US, and has a good safety record.

As they get older, some babies (about 1 in 1000) get a condition that causes a blockage in their lower gut, called intussusception. It is extremely rare before three months of age and most cases occur between the ages of three months and 18 months of age. There is a very small chance (around 2 in every 100,000 babies vaccinated) that the first dose of the vaccine might also cause this blockage to develop.

To reduce this risk, the first dose of the vaccine will not be given to babies older than 15 weeks of age and the course must be completed by 24 weeks.

Many unvaccinated babies over 24 weeks will have already had the rotavirus infection and should have built up some immunity to it.

How long does the vaccine give protection for?

The length of immunity is not completely known, however, clinical trials have shown two doses of the vaccine to be protective for several years.

Reviewed on 11 May 2017

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Published on June 29, 2015

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