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Rotavirus vaccine


The rotavirus vaccine helps protect babies against rotavirus.

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.

Why should a baby be vaccinated?

The rotavirus immunisation protects a baby against this illness.

The most important thing you can do is have the 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.

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.

When will a baby be immunised?

The rotavirus immunisation is offered to all babies in Scotland.

The rotavirus vaccine is normally given with the baby’s other routine immunisations at 8 weeks and again at 12 weeks of age. Your local NHS immunisation team will invite you for the vaccination, so there’s no need to book an appointment.

Find out how to contact your local NHS immunisation team regarding your vaccination appointment

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

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

I’ve heard rotavirus is a live vaccine. Won’t that make the 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 the baby build up immunity to it, so that next time the baby comes into contact with the virus it can fight it off.

This means that if the child’s infected with the real virus their immune system will quickly recognise it and act to stop the infection.

Carers for the baby with a severely weakened immune system

The virus in the vaccine will pass through the 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 the 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.

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

The vaccine

Unlike most immunisations, rotavirus isn’t given by injection. It’s given by mouth (orally) as a liquid. If the baby’s sick immediately after the immunisation, the vaccine will be given again.

What vaccine is used?

The Rotarix Oral Applicator is routinely used in Scotland.

How many doses of the vaccine does a baby need?

To get the best protection, a baby should get 2 rotavirus immunisations, 4 weeks apart. The first is given at 8 weeks and the second at 12 weeks of age.

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 a child missed either immunisation, speak to your health professional.

How do we know the vaccine is safe?

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness before they’re allowed to be used. Their safety continues to be monitored while in use 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.

Are there any reasons a baby shouldn’t have the rotavirus vaccine?

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 – for example severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (SCID)

After the vaccine

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

Vaccines protect babies against the risk of very serious infections and should not be delayed.

Side effects

Babies who’ve had the vaccine can sometimes become restless and tetchy, and some may even develop mild diarrhoea.

In very rare cases (about two in every hundred thousand babies vaccinated), the vaccine can affect the baby’s lower gut.

Phone 999 for an ambulance and seek help immediately if:

  • the child has a fit

If you think the child is seriously ill, trust your instincts and seek urgent medical advice.

Phone your GP immediately if:

  • the baby develops pain in their tummy
  • the baby starts vomiting
  • the baby passes what looks like red currant jelly in their nappy
  • the baby has a temperature of 39°C or above
  • the baby still has a fever 48 hours after vaccination
  • if you are concerned about the child’s health

If your GP is closed, phone NHS 24 free on 111.

Speak to your GP, practise nurse or health visitor if you’re at all concerned about the baby’s health a day or so after any vaccination.

Fever can be expected after any vaccination. Fevers are usually mild, so you only need to give a dose of infant paracetamol if the child isn’t comfortable or is unwell. Read the instructions on the bottle very carefully.

Ibuprofen can also be used to treat a fever and other post-vaccination reactions. Read the instructions on the product packing very carefully. Giving ibuprofen at the time of vaccination to prevent a fever is not effective.

Remember, never give medicines that contain aspirin to children under 16.

Information about treating a fever in children.

In infants who do develop a fever after vaccination, the fever tends to peak around 6 hours after vaccination and is nearly always gone completely within 2 days.

Read more about the common side effects of immunisations that might occur in babies and young children

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 0800 731 6789 (available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)

Vaccine Safety Net Member

Public Health Scotland is a proud member of the Vaccine Safety Net and partners with NHS inform to provide reliable information on vaccine safety.

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

Information in other languages and formats

Information leaflets from Public Health Scotland are available in

  • British Sign Language (BSL), Audio, Easy Read, and Large Print formats
  • English and other languages

You can request another format or language (for example Braille) by emailing

Last updated:
17 July 2024

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