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Minister announces new vaccination programme to protect children against vomiting and diarrhoea bug

Health Minister Edwin Poots has announced the introduction of a new childhood vaccination programme to protect children against the diarrhoea bug rotavirus.
Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Minister has also announced a change to the current arrangements for protecting children against meningitis C.

The plan will see children under four months vaccinated against rotavirus, a highly infectious bug that causes thousands of diarrhoea cases a year in under fives. About one in five children who catch it require medical attention and one in ten of these end up in hospital.

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.

The vaccine, Rotarix, is already used to routinely vaccinate children in the US and several other countries. In the US, rotavirus-related hospital admissions have fallen by as much as 86 per cent since it was introduced.

The Health Minister said: “Rotavirus spreads very easily and affects thousands of children every year, causing distress for them and their families. Immunisation of every child is vital to prevent illness and protect life. I would encourage all parents of young children to avail of this vaccine when the programme begins in July.”

The programme will begin on 1 July 2013. Children need two doses, given at two and three months of age. This vaccine is given as a small amount of liquid into the mouth.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “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. 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.”

As with all vaccination programmes it will be closely monitored by the Public Health Agency, and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The Minister has also announced that the current arrangements for protecting people against meningitis C will also be updated from 1 June. A new teenage booster injection given in school will replace the booster that is currently given at four months old. Current evidence shows that the four-month booster is no longer required. The teenage booster vaccination will be offered during the 2013/14 school year.

Further information on the rotavirus vaccine can be found on the nidirect website

Notes to editors:

1. The rotavirus vaccine will be given to infants as part of the existing Childhood Immunisation Programme. It will be given in two separate doses with the other routine vaccines when children are two months old, then again at three months. The vaccine has been extensively tested when given simultaneously with other routine vaccines. It is given by mouth as drops.

2. Rotavirus can be a serious illness in the very young.

3. Gastroenteritis usually begins with the symptoms of diarrhoea and sometimes accompanied by vomiting. A child may also have a fever (high temperature) of 38C (100.4F) or above and/or a tummy ache.

4. The symptoms of diarrhoea usually pass within five to seven days. Most children's diarrhoea symptoms will not last more than two weeks.

5. Very young children have the highest risk of severe complications which can result in severe dehydration and can even lead to death in a very small number of cases.

6. The infection can be treated with rehydration solutions available from pharmacies.

7. The Rotarix vaccine is manufactured by GSK.

8. This announcement is the first of a number of new vaccination programmes and changes to existing programmes that will be announced this year.

9. Currently, the Meninigitis C vaccine is given as part of the childhood vaccination programme at 3 months, 4 months and 1 year.

10. Media queries about this press release to DHSSPS Press Office on 028 9052 0571 or out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 076 9971 5440 and your call will be returned.