The rotavirus vaccine is given to babies as part of their routine childhood vaccinations.
When should babies have the rotavirus vaccine?
The vaccine is given as 2 doses, 4 weeks apart. The first dose is usually given at 8 weeks, and the second dose at 12 weeks.
How is the vaccine given?
The vaccine is given as a liquid straight into the baby’s mouth for them to swallow. If baby spits out the vaccine or vomits immediately after having it, the oral vaccine will be given again; there is no danger of overdosing.
How well does the vaccine work?
The vaccine contains a weakened strain of rotavirus; this helps your baby to build up immunity, so that the next time they come into contact with rotavirus they will not get the disease. It is very effective and gives good immunity to rotavirus infection.
Is the vaccine safe?
Research shows that the rotavirus vaccine is safe. Rotarix (the brand name of the rotavirus vaccine) has been used in many countries, for more than 10 years.
Will the rotavirus vaccination stop my baby getting any sickness and diarrhoea?
No. Rotavirus is not the only cause of sickness and diarrhoea in babies. However, the majority of babies who have the vaccine will be protected from severe vomiting and diarrhoea caused by rotavirus. The more babies who have the vaccine, the more difficult it will be for the virus to spread.
What are the side effects of the rotavirus vaccine?
The vast majority of babies will not have any problems at all after having their rotavirus vaccination. Some babies who have the vaccine may become restless and irritable, and some may develop mild diarrhoea in the days following vaccination
Common side effects
Babies who have the vaccine can sometimes become restless and irritable, and some may develop mild diarrhoea.
Rare side effects
As with all vaccines, there is a very small possibility (approximately 1 in 1 million) of the rotavirus vaccine causing a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis after a vaccination is very rare and is a medical emergency. If it does happen, it is usually quick (within minutes). The people who give vaccinations are trained to deal with anaphylactic reactions.
Very rarely, (about 2 in every 100,000 babies vaccinated), the rotavirus vaccine can cause a blockage in the baby’s intestine (bowel) and they may develop a rare gut disorder called intussusception. The symptoms of intussusception are:
- tummy ache
- being sick
- poo that looks like redcurrant jelly in the baby’s nappy
If this happens, contact your doctor immediately.
It is possible for a baby to get rotavirus infection after being vaccinated. But this is uncommon and the illness is usually milder than it would have been if they had not been vaccinated.
What to do if your baby is unwell after the rotavirus vaccine
The vast majority of babies will not have any problems at all after having their rotavirus vaccination. Some babies who have the vaccine may become restless and irritable, and some may develop mild diarrhoea in the days following vaccination. It is important to bear in mind that diarrhoea and vomiting in babies is common and may be unrelated to the vaccine.
What if your baby misses the first dose of rotavirus oral vaccine?
The rotavirus vaccination is only suitable for young babies. Your baby needs 2 rotavirus vaccinations at least 4 weeks apart to be fully protected.
If baby misses the first dose of the rotavirus vaccine, they can have it later, up to age 15 weeks. If they miss the second dose of rotavirus oral vaccine (usually given at 12 weeks), they can have that later, up to 24 weeks old.
If they miss one of the vaccinations, the first one can be given a month later, at 12 weeks, and the second dose a month later, at 16 weeks.
The first dose cannot be given any later than 15 weeks and the second dose no later than 24 weeks. Babies can only have the second dose if they had their first dose before 15 weeks.
Can the rotavirus vaccine be given at the same time as other vaccines?
Yes, it is safe for your baby to have the rotavirus oral vaccine at the same time as other childhood vaccines, such as the pneumococcal vaccine and MenB vaccine.
Which babies should not have the rotavirus vaccine?
The rotavirus vaccine should not be given to babies who:
- are seriously ill with either diarrhoea and vomiting, or have a fever on the day of the appointment. It is recommended that the vaccination be postponed until your baby has recovered. If your baby is well enough to have their routine childhood vaccinations, it is fine to give them the rotavirus vaccination
- have reacted very badly to a previous dose of the vaccine, or to any of the substances that go into the vaccine
- are born to mothers who were taking immunosuppressant medicines in pregnancy
- have been breastfeeding while their mother was taking immunosuppressant medicines (you can discuss this with your child health nurse)
- are older than 24 weeks of age
It is best that you speak with your GP first if your baby has any of the following long-term conditions:
- a history of intussusception (a disorder of the intestines)
- severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (SCID) – a rare genetic disease that makes babies very vulnerable to infection
- certain rare inherited disorders such as fructose intolerance, glucose-galactose malabsorption or sucrase-isomaltase insufficiency
Click here to view leaflet on the rotavirus vaccine.