Rotavirus Vaccine: Protecting Our Youngest from Severe Diarrheal Illness

Why Get Vaccinated?

Vaccination plays a crucial role in protecting individuals and communities from infectious diseases. Rotavirus, for example, can cause severe diarrhea, primarily in babies and young children. Accompanied by vomiting and fever, rotavirus can lead to severe dehydration requiring hospitalization, and in extreme cases, death. Thankfully, we have an effective weapon against this virus: the Rotavirus vaccine.

The Vaccine

Administered orally, the Rotavirus vaccine is given in 2 or 3 doses, depending on the brand. The first dose should be given before the child reaches 15 weeks of age, and the final dose should be administered by 8 months. Once vaccinated, almost all babies will be protected from severe Rotavirus diarrhea.

One brand of the vaccine, Rotarix, may contain traces of another virus called "porcine circovirus." However, it's essential to understand that this virus does not infect humans, and there is no known safety risk. It's also worth noting that the Rotavirus vaccine can be given simultaneously with other vaccines.

Talk With Your Health Care Provider

Before your child receives the Rotavirus vaccine, inform your health care provider if your child:

  • Has had an allergic reaction after a previous dose of rotavirus vaccine, or has any severe, life-threatening allergies
  • Has a weakened immune system
  • Has severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID)
  • Has had a type of bowel blockage called "intussusception"

In some cases, your health care provider may decide to postpone the Rotavirus vaccination until a future visit.

Risks of a Vaccine Reaction

Like any medical intervention, the Rotavirus vaccine carries some risk. Irritability or mild, temporary diarrhea or vomiting can occur after vaccination. A rare but serious side effect is intussusception, a type of bowel blockage requiring hospital treatment and potentially surgery. The additional risk of intussusception from vaccination is estimated to range from about 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 100,000 U.S. infants who receive the vaccine.

What If There Is a Serious Problem?

If you suspect intussusception in your baby, watch for stomach pain accompanied by severe crying. The baby might also vomit several times or have blood in their stool, appear weak, or be very irritable. Contact a health care provider immediately if these symptoms present. Make sure to inform them when your baby received the Rotavirus vaccine.

An allergic reaction might occur after the vaccination. Symptoms can include hives, facial and throat swelling, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, or weakness. If such symptoms arise, call 9-1-1 and transport the individual to the nearest hospital.

For any other concerns or symptoms, reach out to your health care provider. It's also important to report any adverse reactions to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Usually, your health care provider will file this report, or you can do it yourself.

Remember that The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) exists to compensate people who may have been injured by certain vaccines. To learn more about vaccination, you can reach out to your health care provider, your local or state health department, or visit the CDC's website.

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