How well does the vaccine protect against rotavirus?
The vaccine contains live, weakened rotavirus. The vaccine virus does not cause rotavirus disease among healthy children. The rotavirus vaccine is very effective and gives almost 100 percent protection against severe rotavirus infection.
How is the vaccine given?
The rotavirus vaccine is given orally and tastes sweet.
The vaccine used in the Childhood Immunisation Programme consists of 2 doses. The first dose is given at 6 weeks at the earliest, but no later than 12 weeks. The second dose is given when the child is 3 months of age, but no later than 16 weeks. Protection after vaccination lasts for 3–4 years. This is enough to protect the youngest and most vulnerable children.
Important to remember before vaccination
Inform the public health centre if the child has recently taken medicine, has an allergy or any other health problems. The public health centre should also be informed if the mother has taken medicine that affects the immune system during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, because it may be necessary to postpone vaccination with this vaccine.
Delay vaccination if the child has an acute infectious disease with fever over 38 ºC or an acute gastrointestinal infection with diarrhea or vomiting.
Common side effects of the vaccine
The most common unwanted effects from the vaccine in the Childhood Immunisation Programme (Rotarix) are:
- Irritability and loose stools among 1 in 10 vaccinated children.
- Stomach pains, excess wind and skin reactions occur in up to 1 in 100 vaccinated children.
Intussusception is a rare condition among infants where a part of the intestine is pulled into itself. Every year in Norway, about 35–40 children under 1-year-old are admitted to hospital with intussusception. Studies have shown that this number could increase slightly after introducing the rotavirus vaccine (up to 1 extra case per 20,000 vaccinated), particularly when the vaccine is given above a certain age. Therefore the first dose should be given by the time the child is 12-weeks-old and the second dose when the child is 16-weeks-old.
The vaccine used is called Rotarix. More information about this vaccine is available on the Norwegian Medical Products Agency (formerly the Norwegian Medicines Agency) website.
Infection and spread of rotavirus disease
Rotavirus is the cause of approximately half of the cases of diarrhoea and vomiting in infants and toddlers. The virus transmits very easily.
The usual route of infection is when a child puts their hand in their mouth after touching an object that is contaminated with rotavirus. Children excrete the virus in their stools before, during and after symptoms appear. Having a rotavirus infection only gives partial protection against re-infection, so many people will have several episodes of rotavirus disease during childhood. Good hand hygiene reduces the spread of the virus but will not stop it completely.
Treatment of rotavirus disease
Rotavirus disease often causes more severe symptoms than other gastrointestinal infections. Most children will recover without complications but some will need treatment for dehydration.
If treatment begins too late, the disease can be fatal, but this happens rarely in Norway.
Before the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine in the Childhood Immunisation Programme, rotavirus disease was the cause of almost two - thirds of all admissions of young children to hospital with vomiting and diarrhoea. Every year, 700-1100 children with rotavirus disease were admitted to hospital for treatment and the majority were under 2-years-old.