The number of confirmed cases of rotavirus - a highly infectious and occasionally severe stomach bug that affects babies and young children1 - has dropped by 69% since a vaccine to protect against the disease was introduced in the UK a year ago, according to statistics published by Public Health England2.
Between July and June for the ten years before the vaccine was introduced, an average of 14,127 lab-reported cases of rotavirus occurred in the UK each year. That figure fell to 4,490 between July 2013 and June 20142. A two-dose, oral vaccine to protect against rotavirus was introduced on the NHS for babies at the age of two and three months in July 2013. The vast majority of babies tolerate the vaccine very well. A small number develop restlessness, irritability or mild diarrhoea.
Rotavirus causes an unpleasant bout of diarrhoea, sometimes with vomiting, tummy ache and fever. Before the vaccine was introduced, around 130,000 cases resulted in a GP visit in England and Wales each year and around 13,000 children ended up in hospital as a result of the bug3 because of complications such as extreme dehydration. A very small number of children die from rotavirus infection each year1.
Dr Peter Basile, medical manager for vaccines at GSK, which manufactures the rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix, said: "These figures are fantastic news. The addition of our vaccine to the standard set of immunisations given from birth has been a huge success so far, preventing a horrible illness in many babies.
"A recent survey looking at uptake showed that around 88% of babies are being given both doses of the rotavirus vaccine in the UK4. While this is encouraging and a higher uptake than we'd expect for a new vaccine, there's still more we can do to help make sure every baby stands the best chance of avoiding this virus."