Overview

The rotavirus vaccine helps protect your baby against rotavirus, and is given to your baby at 8 and 12 weeks of age.

Rotavirus is an infection that causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting in babies and young children. It can lead to dehydration (loss of body fluids) requiring hospital treatment. The rotavirus immunisation protects your baby against this illness.

What's rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a virus that infects the gut (tummy), causing severe diarrhoea and vomiting. Most babies get sick (vomit) or have diarrhoea at some time and recover fully after a few days. However, sickness and diarrhoea caused by rotavirus can lead to dehydration (loss of body fluids). Dehydration can be very dangerous for babies and young children and can require hospital treatment.

Before the vaccine was introduced in 2013, around 1200 babies in Scotland had to go to hospital every year with rotavirus. Since then, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases in infants has fallen by more than 80%.

How can I protect my baby from rotavirus?

The most important thing you can do is have your baby immunised against rotavirus, as part of the Routine Childhood Immunisation Programme in Scotland.

In countries where babies already get the rotavirus vaccine there's been a big drop in the number of babies and young children going to hospital because of the virus.

Who's eligible for the vaccine?

The rotavirus immunisation is offered to all babies in Scotland. They'll normally be given with your baby’s other routine immunisations at 8 weeks and again at 12 weeks of age, so there’s no need for extra visits to the practice or clinic.

The vaccine

Unlike most immunisations, rotavirus isn’t given by injection. It's given by mouth (orally) as a liquid at 8 weeks and again at 12 weeks of age.

If your baby's sick immediately after the immunisation, the vaccine will be given again.

Immunisation can also provide 'population protection'

What vaccine's used?

The Rotarix Oral Applicator is routinely used in Scotland.

I’ve heard it’s a live vaccine. Won’t that make my baby catch the illness or its symptoms?

No. The virus in the vaccine is weakened so that it doesn’t cause the illness. It helps your baby build up immunity to it, so that next time your baby comes into contact with the virus it can fight it off.

This means that if your child's infected with the real viruses their immune system will quickly recognise them and act to stop the infection.

The virus in the vaccine will pass through your baby’s gut and may be picked up by whoever changes his or her nappy. This may mean that people with a severely weakened immune system could catch the virus from your baby. Therefore, people whose immune systems are severely compromised because of a medical condition or treatment should avoid this sort of close contact with babies who've had the rotavirus vaccine for 14 days.

Anyone in close contact with a baby who's recently had the rotavirus immunisation should ensure good personal hygiene - for example washing their hands after changing a baby’s nappy.

Is there any reason why my child shouldn't be immunised?

There are very few babies who can't receive the rotavirus vaccine.

The vaccine shouldn't be given to babies who:

  • have had anaphylactic reactions (severe allergic reaction) to a previous dose of the vaccine or any ingredients of the vaccine
  • have certain rare, long-term conditions that'll be known to your GP - for example severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (SCID)

What if my baby is ill on the day the immunisation's due?

Unless your baby's very unwell (for example with a fever, diarrhoea or vomiting), there’s no reason to delay the appointment.

How do we know the vaccine's safe?

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. The vaccine has been given to millions of people worldwide.

Once they're in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the MHRA.

Where and when to get it

Your baby will get the rotavirus vaccination at your GP practice or health centre.

When will my baby be immunised?

To get the best protection, your baby should get 2 rotavirus immunisations, 4 weeks apart. They'll normally be given with your baby’s other routine immunisations at 8 weeks and 12 weeks of age, so there’s no need for extra visits to the practice or clinic.

As they get older, some babies (about one in a thousand) get a condition that causes a blockage in their lower gut. It's extremely rare before 3 months of age and most cases occur between the ages of 5 months and 1 year. However, there's a very small chance (around two in every hundred thousand babies vaccinated) that the first dose of the vaccine might also cause this blockage to develop. To reduce this risk, the first dose of the vaccine must be given before 15 weeks of age and babies should have the second dose 4 weeks later, and before 24 weeks. If your child missed either immunisation, speak to your health professional.

With lots of younger babies having the immunisation the chances of it spreading are reduced. Rotavirus causes fewer problems in older children, and it's rare in adults.

Improving how vaccines are offered in Scotland

To improve how vaccinations are offered to you or your child, you may notice:

  • you're invited to a new location to receive your immunisations instead of your GP practice
  • the health professional giving your immunisations changes

You'll still receive clear information about the location, date and time of your appointment.

After the vaccine

After having the vaccine there may be side effects, but these are usually mild.

Side effects

Many millions of doses of the vaccine have been used and it has a good safety record. Babies who've had the vaccine can sometimes become restless and tetchy, and some may even develop mild diarrhoea. If you’re at all concerned about your baby’s health a day or so after any vaccination you should speak to your GP, practice nurse or health visitor.

In very rare cases (about two in every hundred thousand babies vaccinated), the vaccine can affect the baby’s lower gut. They may develop pain in their tummy, vomiting and sometimes they may pass what looks like red currant jelly in their nappies.

If you're worried about your child, trust your instincts. Speak to your GP or phone the 111 service.

Phone your GP immediately if, at any time, your child has a temperature of 39°C or above, or has a fit. If your GP practice is closed, phone the 111 service.

Read more about the common side effects of immunisations that might occur in young people.

Where can I report suspected side effects?

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme.

This can be done by:

  • visiting the Yellow Card Scheme website
  • phoning the free Yellow Card hotline on 0808 100 3352 (available Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 2.00pm)

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the rotavirus vaccine, phone:

Vaccine Safety Net Member

NHS inform is a proud member of the Vaccine Safety Net.

The Vaccine Safety Net is a global network of websites, evaluated by the World Health Organization, that provides reliable information on vaccine safety.

More about the Vaccine Safety Net

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the rotavirus vaccine, phone:

Immunisation leaflet

NHS Health Scotland have produced a leaflet explaining routine childhood immunisations in Scotland including the rotavirus vaccine, why it's offered and when it's given.

This leaflet's also available in Easy Read English and other languages - including Polish, Simplified Chinese and Urdu.

A guide to childhood immunisations up to 5 years of age

Audio leaflet