Rotavirus vaccine

Easy-to-read medicine information about rotavirus vaccine – what it is, when it is given and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Vaccines
  • Rotarix®

What is rotavirus vaccine?

Rotavirus vaccine is an oral vaccine used to prevent rotavirus infection, which causes fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, mostly in babies and young children. The main risk of rotavirus is that children will become dehydrated because of vomiting and diarrhoea. These complications are more serious in babies and children who:

  • are aged between 6 months and 2 years
  • have a low birth weight and are still underweight
  • have high-risk medical conditions, such as heart or kidney problems or diabetes.

Find out more about rotavirus.

How effective is rotavirus vaccine?

Rotavirus was very common in New Zealand before the rotavirus vaccine was listed on the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule. Almost all unimmunised children will get rotavirus before they are 3 years old. Vaccination is the best method for preventing rotavirus infection and reducing the seriousness of illness if infected. Vaccination against rotavirus prevents:

  • 5–8 babies in 10 from severe rotavirus infection
  • 9 in 10 from needing to be admitted to hospital because of rotavirus infection
  • 5–7 in 10 from having any rotavirus diarrhoea.

When is rotavirus vaccine given?

Rotavirus vaccine is free as part of the National Immunisation Schedule in New Zealand for babies at 6 weeks and 3 months. If you miss these dates, you can catch up, but the first vaccine must be given before 15 weeks of age and the second dose before 25 weeks. The interval between the 2 doses should be at least 4 weeks. The vaccine is not given to older babies because its safety beyond that age has not been assessed. Read more about childhood immunisation

As with all vaccinations, you will need to stay with your child at the doctor's surgery or clinic after they have had the vaccination to make sure they have not had an allergic reaction to the vaccine. The rotavirus vaccine is a live vaccine, so if your child has a severe immune deficiency, it may not be recommended. If your child currently has an illness with vomiting and diarrhoea, the vaccine may be delayed.

How is rotavirus vaccine given?

Rotavirus vaccine is an oral vaccine that is simply squirted into your baby’s mouth. If your baby spits out all of the dose immediately, another dose could be given. You can feed your baby breast milk, formula or food before and after the vaccination. If your baby vomits afterwards, another dose should not be given.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, rotavirus vaccine can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. The vaccine can cause mild diarrhoea (runny poos), vomiting or tummy pain. This is temporary and usually settles after a few days. Wash your hands well after changing nappies.

Risk of intussusception

Rotavirus vaccine may cause a small risk of intussusception (a type of bowel blockage). This occurs naturally in some babies each year, with no known cause. Intussusception is rare and can be treated in hospital. Signs include severe crying, tummy pain (pulling up their knees) and pink- or red-coloured jelly-like poos.

If your baby has these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. The increased risk, if any, is very small compared to the risks of rotavirus infection and is most likely to occur within the first week after the first dose, but may be seen up to 3 weeks after vaccination.

Intussusception, although rare, generally occurs in older infants, therefore, it's very important to give the vaccine at the correct ages of 6 weeks and 3 months, before they reach the high risk period. If your child has a history of intussusception or severe stomach (tummy) problems, let your doctor know before giving the rotavirus vaccine. Read more about rotavirus, the rotavirus vaccine and intussusception.

Where can I get vaccinated?

The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.

If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Ring them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.

You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.

Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.

Learn more

The following links have more information on rotavirus vaccine. 

Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Rotavirus
Rotarix

References

  1. Rotavirus Immunisation Handbook 2017, NZ
  2. Rotarix The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 24 Jan 2019