GPs in England and Wales will begin vaccinating infants against rotavirus from today, as the first of a number of changes to this year’s routine immunisation schedule gets underway.
The rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix, is given orally to babies in two doses, at the age of two months and three months, alongside their first and second routine childhood immunisations.
Public Health England (PHE) says the vaccine provides a cost-effective way of preventing rotavirus infections and hospitalisations. Rotavirus is currently responsible for 130,000 visits to the GP each year and for 12,700 children ending up in hospital due to dehydration.
Research in the United States suggests that rotavirus-related hospitalisations were reduced by a third after routine vaccination with Rotarix was introduced, while a UK study estimated that vaccinating a birth cohort of infants in England and Wales could prevent around 90,000 infections, 10,000 hospitalisations and two deaths due to rotavirus over the infants’ first five years of life, as well as protecting some people in the rest of the population through herd immunity.
Dr Paul Cosford, director of health protection and medical director at PHE, said: ‘Rotavirus is a highly infectious and unpleasant illness that affects thousands of young children each year. While most recover within a few days, nearly one in five will need to see their doctor, and one in 10 will end up in hospital as a result.
He added: ‘The new vaccine will provide protection to those young babies who are most vulnerable to complications arising from rotavirus. From now on parents will be offered this protection alongside their baby’s other childhood vaccinations.’
Last month GPs ceased giving children the MenC confugate vaccine at four months, as this is being replaced by a booster dose given in adolescence, but in the autumn they will need to start giving the shingles vaccine to 70- and 79-year-olds and the new nasal flu vaccine to preschool-age children.