From 1 July 2013 the routine childhood immunisation schedule will include the rotavirus vaccine to protect babies against rotavirus. In Northern Ireland this infection is responsible for around 4,000 GP visits and 400 hospitalisations every year in children under five years.
Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: “Rotavirus is an infection of the lower gut that causes vomiting and diarrhoea in thousands of young babies every year. Most babies recover at home, but in some cases they can become dehydrated and may need hospital treatment.
“Rotavirus spreads easily through hand-to-mouth contact and can be picked up from surfaces such as toys, hands or dirty nappies. It can also be spread through the air. Washing hands and keeping surfaces clean can help reduce the spread of the virus but will never completely stop it. Vaccination is a much more effective way to protect infants from getting infected.
“The vaccine has been used in other countries, including America, for some time now and millions of doses have been given. We can therefore be confident in saying that this is a very safe vaccine.”
Babies attending for vaccination from 1 July will be offered the vaccine as part of their two- and three-month vaccination appointments with their local GP. The vaccine will be administered as a droplet directly into the babies’ mouth.
Dr Smithson continued: “The vaccine will be given to babies at their two and three month appointments. The first dose cannot be given to babies 15 weeks or over. The second dose should be given four weeks after the first dosage and must be before 24 weeks of age. It is therefore important that babies attend their appointments at the correct time.
“Northern Ireland has an excellent record on childhood immunisations, with uptake levels well above the UK average. This has ensured that our children are well protected against serious and potentially fatal diseases. It is great news to see another safe and effective vaccine being introduced. I am sure we will see high uptake levels resulting in our children being protected against another disease.”
For further information on the rotavirus vaccine see the parents’ guide Immunisation for babies up to a year old available at www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/immunisation-babies-year-old-english or ask your GP or Health Visitor.
Notes to the editor
- For rotavirus factsheets see – www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/rotavirus-factsheet-parents-immunisation
- The vaccine will be given with your baby’s other routine vaccinations at two months of age and again at three months. This is because your baby needs two rotavirus vaccinations at least four weeks apart to get the best protection.
- The first dose of the vaccination cannot be given to babies 15 weeks of age or over. The second dose must be given by 24 weeks of age.
- Rotavirus vaccine is given as a small amount of liquid from a dropper to make it easy for your baby to swallow.
- The vaccine is weakened so it doesn’t cause the disease. The vaccine helps your baby build up immunity, so the next time he or she comes into contact with the virus they will not get the disease.
- 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 to routinely vaccinate children in the US and several other countries. In the US, rotavirus-related hospital admissions have fallen by as much as 86% since it was introduced.
- All vaccines have to pass rigorous safety tests before they can be used, so although the vaccine is new here, it has been used in other countries, including America, for some time now and millions of doses have been given. We can therefore be confident in saying that this is a very safe vaccine.