Babies to get rotavirus vaccine
All babies are to be vaccinated against a highly infectious bug that is one of the most common causes of diarrhoea in children.
From September next year, infants aged between two and four months will be immunised against rotavirus - which causes diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and dehydration.
At present, almost every child will have had the viral infection by the age of five. It is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in infants and very young children. In order to stem the large number of children who become infected, health experts have decided to immunise children against the virus.
The Department of Health (DH) said that the move will mean that thousands of young children will be spared hospital stays and hundreds of thousands of GP visits. At present, the virus causes 140,000 diarrhoea cases a year in under-fives across the UK, and leads to around 14,000 hospital stays.
Vaccination experts believe the immunisation programme will halve the number of vomiting and diarrhoea cases caused by rotavirus and there could be 70% fewer hospital stays as a result. Children will receive the vaccine, to be given orally as two separate doses of liquid drops, as part of their routine vaccination programme.
Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the DH, said: "Rotavirus spreads very easily and affects around 140,000 children every year, causing distress for them and their 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."
Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies added: "It is upsetting to see our children ill in hospital. "Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhoea in young children and this vaccine will protect our children and reduce hospital admissions for serious rotavirus infection."
Dr David Elliman, immunisation specialist of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "This is an important advance as whilst rotavirus does not cause many deaths in the UK, it does cause a huge amount of suffering.
"Rotavirus affects large numbers of under-fives causing them diarrhoea for a few days. 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."