A Parent’s Guide To The Rotavirus Vaccine

By:    Published: February 23, 2012

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Any parent who has ever had a sleepless night with a child that is vomiting and having diarrhea knows how tough it can be, for both parents and kids. One of the most common gastrointestinal viruses to affect small children is rotavirus, and while it may seem like just another case of childhood tummy trouble, it can actually be quite serious. There is now a vaccine that has reduced the incidence and severity of rotavirus infections dramatically.

What Is It?

The rotavirus vaccine is a swallowed vaccine, not an injected vaccine as other vaccines are. The vaccine became available in 2006 and by 2010 the vaccine had reduced the numbers of children needing emergency room care of hospitalization by a stunning 85 percent.

There are two different brands of rotavirus vaccine currently available, RotaTeq (RV5) and Rotarix (RV1). Both are effective, however they do provide immunity against different strains of rotavirus. RotaTeq is effective against G1, G2, G3, G4, and P1 strains of rotavirus. Rotarix is effective against G1, G3, G4, and G9 strains of rotavirus. Both are live vaccines.

Rotavirus vaccine will not prevent illness from other types of gastrointestinal infections.

Points to remember:

  • Rotavirus vaccine is a oral vaccine, not an injected vaccine
  • It is extremely effective
  • Rotavirus vaccine will not prevent all gastrointestinal infections

Why Is It Needed?

Rotavirus is childhood gastrointestinal virus. Most children have had rotavirus by the time that they reach five years old. Rotavirus causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and fever which can lead to severe dehydration and, if left untreated, death.

Before the rotavirus vaccine was available, rotavirus was responsible for more than 400,000 doctor visits and 200,000 emergency room visits each year. Between 55,000 and 70,000 children were hospitalized each year and sadly between 20 and 60 children died each year.

Hand-washing and sanitation have been ineffective in stopping the spread of rotavirus. However these are effective at reducing the incidence of other childhood diseases, so hand washing and sanitation efforts should continue.

The best way to protect children from rotavirus is the rotavirus vaccine.

Remember:

  • Rotavirus can be very serious, and even lead to death if left untreated
  • Hand washing and sanitizing alone is not enough to combat rotavirus
  • The best way to protect children from this serious illness is the rotavirus vaccine

Is It Safe?

The rotavirus vaccine has been proven safe. As with any vaccine, side effects and serious reactions are always possible, but the incidence is very low.

The most common side effects seen with the rotavirus vaccine is pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue, minor nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These are usually very mild and tend to disappear rather quickly.

There is a very small risk of something called intussusception associated with the rotavirus vaccine. This is a type of bowel obstruction in which the bowel folds back into itself, similar to a telescope. It usually occurs within one week of receiving the vaccine, if it’s going to occur at all, but it’s important to keep in mind that it is extremely rare. The intussusception is treated a number of ways and after treatment infants usually recover completely.

There had initially been some concern that the RotaTeq vaccine may cause Kawasaki syndrome, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this is unfounded. Between February 2006 when the vaccine was first licensed and June of 2007, more than six million doses had been distributed, but there were only three confirmed cases of Kawasaki syndrome. This does not exceed the number of cases expected based on how often Kawasaki syndrome usually occurs.

Remember:

  • Rotavirus vaccine is very safe
  • Very small risk of developing intussusceptions
  • Previous reports of RotaTeq causing Kawasaki syndrome are unfounded. The vaccine does not cause Kawasaki syndrome.

Who Shouldn’t Be Vaccinated?

While it is recommended that every baby be vaccinated against rotavirus, there are some children who should not receive the vaccine.

  • Babies who have had a severe reaction to a dose of rotavirus vaccine should not get another dose. Also if a child has a severe allergy to latex, parents should be sure to let the pediatrician know before getting the vaccine.
  • Babies with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) should not get the rotavirus vaccine.
  • Babies who are mildly ill can be vaccinated but those who are more seriously ill should not be vaccinated until they recover.
  • Parents should check with the pediatrician if the baby has HIV/AIDS or any condition that has a dramatic affect on the immune system, is being treated with drugs like long-term steroids or other medications that suppress the immune system.

The rotavirus vaccine was created in response to a serious problem that affects the some of the most fragile people: children under five. While parents may have some reservations about the vaccine, the vaccine is very safe and it is a much better choice than spending days in a hospital with a seriously ill child.

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