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Rotavirus vaccination programme for babies ‘to begin in July’

Exclusive Health visitors have been told that the rotavirus vaccination programme is likely to begin two months earlier than planned with babies being immunised from July, Pulse has learnt.

The programme for GP practices to vaccinate around 840,000 infants under four months old with the vaccine was due to begin in September, but information on the campaign obtained by Pulse suggests the national enhanced service will begin from 1 July 2013 instead.

The Department of Health refused to confirm whether the information was correct, but confirmed it would be making an announcement on the new programme ‘shortly’.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) concluded adding rotavirus to the children’s immunisation programme was cost-effective last year, and the DH said it is expected to halve the number of rotavirus-caused cases of gastroenteritis and could lead to 70% fewer hospital stays.

GP practices will receive an item of service fee of £7.63 for a completed course of two doses of oral vaccine given to infants aged two months with the second dose given no sooner than four weeks later and no more than six months later.

An email from Ian Packman in the DH’s Health Visitor Programme, and obtained by Pulse, says: ‘Please find attached a flyer and leaflet outlining the rotavirus immunisation that is due to be introduced into the routine childhood immunisation schedule from 1st July 2013.

‘Please feel free to cascade these documents to any health visitors in your team.’

The leaflet published by Public Health England, says: ‘From 1 July 2013, the routine childhood immunisation schedule will include a vaccine to protect babies against rotavirus infection – a common cause of diarrhoea and sickness that can become very serious.’

When the programme was announced in November, the DH said vaccines would be offered in September this year to give manufacturers time to create enough vaccinations.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘We are planning to introduce a routine rotavirus programme and will be announcing the details shortly. Unfortunately a draft version of the leaflet was inadvertently distributed which contains errors and should be ignored.’

The spokesperson refused to say what the errors were, and whether the programme had been delayed since the announcement to health visitors.

Dr George Kassianos, the RCGP’s lead on prescribing said: ‘I am delighted to hear the news because we need to have the rotavirus immunisation in place for winter. January, February and March are the worst months.

‘If we start in July we will immunise children so they suffer less diarrhoea in winter.’