Exclusive: Ministers are looking at the cost-effectiveness of including routine rotavirus vaccinations in the infant immunisation schedule to reduce the incidence of serious cases of gastroenteritis, Pulse has learned.
The move has been welcomed by the RCGP and comes after several recent studies showed that introducing the vaccination into the infant schedule could cut the incidence of serious disease by 70%.
There are an estimated 130,000 episodes of rotavirus-induced diarrhoea and vomiting annually in the under-fives, with thousands of children hospitalised, but UK vaccination advisers have so far ruled out introducing a rotavirus vaccination programme on the grounds of cost.
An evaluation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation in 2009 found that vaccines provided ‘good protection’ against infection, but prices did not meet ‘current economic criteria’ for the NHS.
Three years later, the Department of Health has invited bids from vaccine companies to assess if a campaign as part of the child immunisation programme would be cost-effective.
The bids will cover vaccinating an estimated 800,000 infants over a three-year period, with the option to extend for another year.
Currently there are two available vaccines, Rotarix and RotaTeq, both orally administered. Rotarix is given in two doses and RotaTeq in three doses, at two-monthly intervals.
A DH spokesperson told Pulse: ‘The Department is looking at whether a vaccination programme for young children against diarrhoea and vomiting caused by rotavirus is viable. This follows advice from the Government’s independent vaccine advisory panel.’
A modelling study published last year showed that a routine rotavirus immunisation programme could eradicate severe infections in young children within two years in England and Wales.
The development has been welcomed by GP experts. Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation lead and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said it was ‘excellent news’.
‘The RCGP has been asking for the introduction of this vaccine in the UK schedule now for some time.’
‘We can easily add one of these two vaccines to our immunisation schedule at 2, 3, and 4 months. I do hope there will be no further delay in implementing a rotavirus immunisation programme in the UK.’
What are the alternatives?
Type: Human, live attenuated vaccine
Administration: Oral, two doses at two and four months
Type: Human and bovine, live attenuated vaccine
Administration: Orally, three doses at two four and six months