Thousands of young children will be spared hospital stays and hundreds of thousands of GP visits caused by diarrhoea thanks to a new vaccination programme, announced today by the Department of Health.
The programme, which is planned to begin in September next year, will see children under four months vaccinated against rotavirus – a highly infectious bug that causes around 140,000 diarrhoea cases a year in under fives. It leads to hospital stays for nearly one in ten – around 14,000 – of those who get it in the UK.
It is estimated that the vaccine will halve the number of vomiting and diarrhoea cases caused by rotavirus and there could be 70 per cent fewer hospital stays as a result.Rotavirus vaccines, including the Rotarix vaccine which will be used in the UK, are already used to routinely vaccinate children in the US and many other countries. In the US, studies have shown that rotavirus-related hospital admissions for young children have been cut by more than two thirds since rotavirus vaccination was introduced.
Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation 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.”
The decision comes after the experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) concluded that the health benefit of vaccination means it is a cost effective way of protecting children against rotavirus.
The programme is expected to cost around £25 million a year but is expected to save the NHS around £20 million per year through fewer stays in hospital, fewer GP and A&E visits and fewer calls to NHS Direct.
Around 840,000 infants in the UK under four months will be offered the vaccine. The programme, which is planned to begin from September 2013, cannot start straight away because it takes months for vaccine suppliers to manufacture enough vaccine to meet a country’s needs. The vaccine will be given orally as two separate doses of liquid drops to all children starting when they are two months old.
Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said:
“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.”
The NHS Commissioning Board, which will be operational from April 2013, will become responsible for delivering the rotavirus vaccination programme. The programme will be carefully monitored by Public Health England, which the Health Protection Agency (HPA) will become part of from April 2013, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Source: Department of Health