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Volume 7 No 27; 5 July 2013

New vaccination programme aims to protect infants against rotavirus gastroenteritis

The target of the new national vaccination programme introduced this month by Public Health England [1] is rotavirus gastroenteritis in young children, an illness that leads to an estimated 130,000 GP visits and 12,700 hospitalisations annually in England and Wales [2].

The rotavirus vaccination programme is one of a series of new or amended programmes being introduced by PHE, in partnership with the Department of Health and NHS England, that in due course will also protect the elderly against shingles, a number of target groups against meningococcal group C infection and, in a phased programme over a number of years, children and adolescents against influenza.

Rotavirus is highly infectious and is a major cause of viral gastroenteritis in young children. Nearly every child will have at least one episode of rotavirus gastroenteritis by five years of age. People of any age can be affected but the illness is more severe in young infants, Symptoms of gastroenteritis include vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and mild fever, which usually last for three to eight days. Some children, however, may develop severe gastroenteritis and become dehydrated, and require hospitalisation for rehydration.

The new immunisation programme is seen as the best way of protecting infants and toddlers who are most vulnerable to the infection and its complications. It is hoped the new programme will halve the number of rotavirus cases each year and lead to 70% fewer hospital stays.

The vaccine to be used in the infant immunisation programme is Rotarix®, an oral live attenuated vaccine that mimics natural infection and is administered by placing a droplet of liquid into babies' mouths. Rotarix will be offered to babies along with their routine vaccinations at two and three months of age.

The new Green Book chapter on rotavirus summarises the history and epidemiology of the disease and provides detailed recommendations on supply, storage and use of the vaccine, as well as guidance on contraindications, precautions and adverse reactions. There are very few contraindications against the vaccine: advice should be sought from an immunisation coordinator or health protection team rather than withholding vaccination [2].

All PHE documents relating to the rotavirus vaccination programme for infants including training slidesets, patient leaflets and factsheets are accessible via the PHE Rotavirus Vaccination Programme for Infants series webpages [3].

Public Health England's Immunisation Information for Health Professionals home page is at: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england/series/immunisation.

Regular updates for immunisation practitioners covering the entire national immunisation programme are provided by the monthly newsletter Vaccine Update [4]. A new clinical update on the rotavirus vaccine for travel health specialists has been published [5].

References

1. New vaccine offers babies protection against rotavirus, PHE press release, 1 July 2013.

2. PHE Guidance, 30 April 2013. Rotavirus: the green book, chapter 27b. Rotavirus immunisation inofrmation for public health professionals.

3. Rotavirus Vaccination Programme for Infants series webpages: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england/series/rotavirus-vaccination-progarmme-for-infants.

4. Vaccine Update (issue 202, May/June 2013), 21 June 2013.

5. NaTHNaC, 3 July: Frequently Asked Questions on rotavirus vaccine (Rotarix®).