Infant Vaccination: Rotavirus

When it comes to infant vaccinations, most parents depend on the Health unit to provide the required vaccinations and to educate them on which vaccines are recommended. These public vaccinations are offered free of charge and include: polio, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, haemophilus influenza type B, pneumococcal, meningococcal, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. This series of vaccinations are scheduled to be administered over the course of 5 visits at age 2, 4, 6, 12, and 18 months. There is one infant vaccination that is not on this list that many parents are unaware of and that is the rotavirus vaccine.

Rotavirus is the most common cause of serious diarrhea in babies and children, typically affecting those aged 6 months to 2 years. In fact, almost all children will become infected by the time they are 5. The younger the child is when they become infected, the more severe the symptoms typically are. Globally, rotavirus is responsible for more than half a million deaths each year in children under the age of 5. It has been estimated that universal vaccination against rotavirus would prevent ~45% of these deaths.

What are the symptoms of rotavirus infection?

Infection with this virus causes stomach upset, vomiting, profuse watery diarrhea and sometimes fever which can last for 3-8 days. In babies and young children, the severe diarrhea and vomiting can rapidly lead to dehydration, which can cause severe health complications and hospitalization.

How is the vaccination administered?

There are two different rotavirus vaccines available, Rotarix® which is administered in 2 doses and Rotateq® which is given in three doses.  Both of these vaccines are given to the infant orally in a liquid form. Currently, Rotarix® is not available from the manufacturer; therefore Rotateq® is the only option for parents until the shortage of Rotarix® is resolved.

Infants should be given the first dose of the vaccination at 6 weeks with all of the doses being completed by the time the baby is 8 months (32 weeks) old.

Who should receive the vaccination?

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization as well as the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that all infants receive vaccination to protect against rotavirus infection. In Canada, oral vaccines against rotavirus are publicly covered only in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Despite these recommendations, Alberta Healthcare has yet to implement a program for this important, life saving vaccine and does not cover the cost of this vaccination. Therefore, in Alberta, when parents choose to have their children vaccinated as recommended, they are responsible for the cost.

What are the benefits of the rotavirus vaccination?

Most babies (80-90%) who receive the vaccine will not become infected with rotavirus at all. In the USA, since the implementation of a public vaccination program in 2006, the number of babies and young children needing emergency department care or hospitalization for rotavirus infection has decreased by 85%.

In addition to protecting your child from rotavirus infection, vaccinations of infants also protects against the disease in older un-vaccinated children and adults.

What are the side effects of the vaccination?

Most infants who receive the rotavirus vaccination do not have any side effects. The most common side effects are irritability and diarrhea. Severe reactions, such as allergic reactions are very rare. Speak with your pharmacist of physician if you are concerned about the side effects of vaccination.

Parents should speak with their doctor or pharmacist about vaccination against Rotavirus shortly after the birth of their child. This extremely important vaccination should be considered by all parents in order to prevent their infant/child from becoming seriously ill with rotavirus infection. If you have questions about rotavirus infection or vaccination, speak with your pharmacist today.

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