11 December 2013
Parents in Jersey are to be offered a vaccination for their babies against the highly infectious stomach bug rotavirus.
From 6 January 2014, vaccination against rotavirus will be available for babies born on or after 11 November 2013 and will be offered at their routine two-month and three-month vaccination appointments.
Rotavirus is highly infectious and is the most common cause of gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhoea) in children under five. Nearly every child will develop rotavirus gastroenteritis by the age of five, with many children experiencing it more than once.
Introduction of the vaccine in Jersey will prevent hundreds of children each year from experiencing what can often be a very unpleasant illness, leading to hospital stays for almost 10% of sufferers. Apart from oral rehydration, there is no specific treatment for rotavirus, causing distress for parents when their child experiences symptoms.
Vaccine given orally
The vaccine course consists of two separate doses, one given at two months of age and a second dose a month later. The vaccine, known as Rotarix, is given orally, as a liquid from a dropper, to make it easy for babies to swallow. The vaccine is very effective and will protect against around 90% of the rotavirus strains that are in circulation. It was introduced in the UK in July 2013 and has been in use in a number of countries for at least four years, including Canada, Belgium, Finland and Austria.
Community paediatrician and clinical lead for immunisation Dr Mark Jones said “Infectious diarrhoea and vomiting (gastroenteritis) has been something that almost all children have suffered at one time or another. But now, there is a way to protect babies and young children from the leading cause of this illness.
"In Jersey, about 200 young children each year attend the emergency department with gastroenteritis, about half of which will be due to rotavirus. In the past two years, 23 children have been admitted to hospital because of rotavirus, some of whom have been seriously unwell. I would therefore encourage all parents of young babies to accept this vaccine when the programme begins in January.”
Head of healthcare programmes Dr Linda Diggle said “Rotavirus is highly contagious and once babies start having the vaccine, the chances of it spreading will be reduced. As with all the routine children’s vaccines, this will be funded by the Public Health Department and therefore will be free for parents. It will be given at the same GP visit as other routine immunisations are due.”
Parents can talk to their GP about their child’s immunisations or may contact immunisation nurse specialist Marion Lee on 445790.