Babies in the UK are to be vaccinated against a tummy bug which causes tens of thousands of cases of vomiting and diarrhoea each year. Rotavirus infection is rarely fatal in the UK. Using the vaccine has cut cases and reduced hospital admissions in other countries, including the US. The Department of Health said the vaccine would be offered from September 2013 and would be given in two doses after two and three months. The bug is very infectious and causes about 140,000 cases every year in the under-fives. About 14,000 will need hospital treatment. Experts believe that vaccination would cut the number of cases in half and lead to 70% fewer hospital visits.
Prof David Salisbury, the director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said the virus "spreads very easily" and causes distress for children and families. "Many people think of diarrhoea as something that all children get and that you have to put up with. But there is a way to protect children from this. I'd encourage all parents of young children to accept this vaccine when the programme begins next year." He added the vaccine - which is administered in drops - had been "used very extensively" with "huge trials demonstrating both its safety and its effectiveness". It is expected to cost £25m a year to vaccinate 840,000 children a year. However, the government believes cutting the number of cases will save the NHS £20m.
Prof Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol, said: "Rotavirus causes large epidemics of diarrhoea and vomiting in babies and young children every winter and with it, misery for thousands of families across the country. "I'm pleased that another unpleasant illness that affects most children is going to be brought under control. It will also help hospitals cope in the busy winter months by reducing pressure on beds and front-line staff."
Dr David Elliman, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the vaccine would prevent a "huge amount of suffering" and save the NHS money. "This vaccine will mean less pressure both on distressed parents who have to care for their children and of course the GPs and hospital services who are treating them," he said.