Rotavirus vaccine to be introduced for babies

Behind the Headlines

Saturday November 10 2012

A vaccine can stop rotavirus, a cause of diarrhoea in babies

A vaccine to prevent illness caused by rotavirus will be introduced in the UK, much of the media reports.

The news is based on a Department of Health announcement that the rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix, will be added to the routine childhood vaccination schedule next year.

Rotavirus is a highly infectious stomach bug that causes around 140,000 diarrhoea cases a year in under-fives in this country. It leads to hospital stays for nearly 1 in 10 of those who get it.

The vaccine is expected to be introduced in September 2013 and will be given to infants under the age of four months.

It is estimated that the vaccine will halve the number of vomiting and diarrhoea cases caused by rotavirus and there could be 70% fewer hospital stays as a result.

The vaccine, Rotarix, is already used routinely to vaccinate children in the US and several other countries. In the US, rotavirus-related hospital admissions have fallen by as much as 86% since the vaccine was introduced.


What is rotavirus?

"Rotavirus spreads very easily and affects around 140,000 children every year, causing distress for them and their families. 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."


Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation, Department of Health

Rotavirus is a virus that causes infection of the stomach and bowel, and is spread in faeces (poo). It is most often spread when someone who is infected does not wash their hands properly after going to the toilet.

Rotavirus can be a serious illness in the very young. The gastroenteritis it causes usually begins with the symptoms of diarrhoea and is sometimes accompanied by vomiting. The child may develop a tummy ache and they may also have a fever (high temperature) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above.

The symptoms of diarrhoea usually pass within five to seven days. Most diarrhoea symptoms in children will not last more than two weeks.

Very young children have the highest risk of severe complications, which can result from extreme dehydration. A very small number of children die from rotavirus infection each year.

The dehydration caused by the symptoms of gastroenteritis can be treated with rehydration solutions available from pharmacies.

Read more about dealing with a baby's diarrhoea and vomiting.


Why is the vaccine being introduced?

How can rotavirus be tackled now?

The best way to prevent – or stop the spread of – rotavirus infection is to make sure that your hands are washed thoroughly after going to the toilet and changing nappies.


It is especially important to make sure that young children wash their hands properly.

Experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have concluded that the health benefits of vaccination mean it is a cost effective way of protecting children against rotavirus.

The programme is expected to cost around £25 million a year, but is anticipated to save the NHS around £20 million a year in England through fewer stays in hospital, fewer GP and A&E visits, and fewer calls to NHS Direct.

It should also prevent thousands of children from experiencing what can often be an unpleasant and distressing illness.


How and when will the vaccine be given?

Across the UK around 840,000 infants under four months will be offered the vaccine from September 2013. The programme cannot start straight away because it takes several months for vaccine suppliers to make enough vaccine to meet the country's needs. A liquid-filled capsule will be used to give two separate doses of the vaccine to all children, starting when they are two months old.


Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. The version of the vaccine that will be used – Rotarix – has been extensively used in more than 30 countries and no safety concerns have been raised.

All vaccines are studied very carefully before they are used in a mass vaccination programme. All of the relevant healthcare regulatory bodies, both here and across the world, agree that Rotarix poses no risk to health and is safe to use.


What do independent experts say about the rotavirus vaccine?

Experts on childhood illnesses appear to agree that the introduction of the vaccine will be good for children, families and the health service. The Science Media Centre, which offers a link between journalists and experts, has put out a statement from two eminent specialists in this field.

Professor Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics, University of Bristol, said: "Rotavirus causes large epidemics of diarrhoea and vomiting in babies and young children every winter and, with it, misery for thousands of families across the country.

"The vaccine, which is going to be introduced in the UK next year, is given by mouth at the same time as other routine vaccines starting at two months of age. It has been used in other countries including the US, Mexico and Belgium for several years and it's clear that it works well.

"I'm pleased that another unpleasant illness that affects most children is going to be brought under control. It will also help hospitals cope in the busy winter months by reducing pressure on beds and front-line staff."

And Dr David Elliman, immunisation specialist of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "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."


Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on twitter.

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Babies to be vaccinated against stomach bug from next year: Department of Health. The Daily Telegraph, November 10 2012

Babies to get 'gut bug vaccine'. BBC News, November 10 2012

Young children to get rotavirus vaccine. ITV News, November 10 2012

Further reading

GlaxoSmithKline UK. Rotarix - Patient Information Leaflet. Last updated April 2011.


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 1 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Seafield said on 04 February 2013

Yes the Rotarix is a live vaccine which means it can be replicated in the body causing the very thing it is meant to protect against and it can be passed onto others. People who are having treatment or taking medication which suppresses the immune system are told not to have a live vaccine or to spend time with anyone who has recently had one as they could get infected and the infection could overwhelm their immune system.

As if germs on a door handle or cafe table care whether you have spent all afternoon together or just shared the same shopping trolley!

As all babies' immune systems develop at different rates and some are weakened by other ailments and other vaccinations, this seems like a very bad idea. I bet cases of gastroenteritis will rise once the vacine is introduced but of course, any connection to Rotarix will be discounted. It's a mad, mad world. Actually, 87% of polio cases in the USA between 1973 and 1983 were caused by the polio vaccine - this was the live oral polio vaccine not the dead injected one they use now. These are figures from the CDC so you can be sure they are correct! Polio was decreasing in USA and UK before the introduction of mass immunization programs. Live vaccines should be banned altogether.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Sazar said on 11 November 2012

While considering having this vaccine administered to any child, every doctor, nurse, guardian and parent must read this carefully, comprehensively and several times to ensure the sanctity of informed consent:

... and adverse events must be reported as per the MHRA statute:

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Sazar said on 11 November 2012

How can the NHS say:

"Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. The version of the vaccine that will be used – Rotarix – has been extensively used in more than 30 countries and no safety concerns have been raised.
All vaccines are studied very carefully before they are used in a mass vaccination programme. All of the relevant healthcare regulatory bodies, both here and across the world, agree that Rotarix poses no risk to health and is safe to use."

when the vaccine has Black Triangle status and the MHRA says:

"What are Black Triangle drugs (?)?
When medicines come onto the market, we have relatively limited information about their safety from clinical trials in the UK. These trials generally involve only small numbers of eligible patients who take the medicine for a relatively short period of time. Therefore, patients in clinical trials may not be fully representative of those who will use the medicine when it is marketed.

Only when large numbers of patients have taken a medicine are rare or long-term adverse effects identified. Therefore, effective surveillance after marketing is essential for the identification of rare adverse effects, and to ensure that appropriate action is taken.

New medicines are intensively monitored to ensure that any new safety hazards are identified promptly. The Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) and the MHRA encourages the reporting of all suspected reactions to newer drugs and vaccines, which are denoted by an inverted Black Triangle symbol (?).

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

chatsubo said on 11 November 2012

Er, glymum not really sure what you're point is? There's is no evidence that the rotavirus vaccine causes cancer.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

glynmun said on 10 November 2012

Is this a live virus vaccine? If so Extra hygeine procedures should be followed as it can be transmitted to the parent and other siblings if proper handwashing procedures and nappy disposal etc arent followed.

I worry that the in combination effect of all the vaccines offered to pregnant mothers and toddlers may result in something nasty and unforseen. You dont have to look far for details about Whooping cough vaccine and it's poor duration of activity and the fact that an outbreak in the US was mainly in those kids who'd already been vaccinated.

Polio drops, Measles, TB etc have all made massive differences.......but when you have grandparents making it to 100years old and not having all the extra "choices" it makes you question the necessity.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Useful links

NHS Choices links

How to read health news

How to read health news

Fact or fiction? Killer or cure? We show you how to look Behind the Headlines.

NHS childhood vaccination programme

Find out which vaccinations are offered to all children on the NHS and at what age, and the optional vaccinations for at-risk children

Diarrhoea and vomiting in children

Find out what causes diarrhoea and vomiting in children, and how to treat it

Washing and bathing your baby

A step-by-step guide to 'topping and tailing' and bathing your new baby

Keep your home clean

How good home hygiene can help prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as MRSA, E. coli and Clostridium difficile