Rotavirus is highly infectious and is the commonest cause of acute
gastroenteritis in young children, causing diarrhea, vomiting and
fever. Infection with rotavirus results in considerable use of health
services in the United Kingdom.
The UK-wide rotavirus vaccination program was introduced in
2013. The vaccine is given as oral drops in two doses, to babies aged
between two and three months old.
‘The fall in visits among young children (the age group that receives the rotavirus vaccination), and also older children and adults suggests herd immunity from the vaccination program.’
Previous research has shown that the introduction of the program
has resulted in a decrease in hospitalizations and Emergency Department
visits for acute gastroenteritis among adults and children.
A new study, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical
Medicine with Public Health England, found that the fall in visits was
biggest among young children (the age group that receives the rotavirus
vaccination), but there was also a decrease in visits by older children
and adults. This suggests herd immunity from the vaccination program;
individuals were protected even if unvaccinated due to the decrease in
The new study used primary care data to look at the impact on GP
visits and went on to estimate the visits and healthcare costs averted
in England across all healthcare settings.
In GP surgeries, rates of acute gastroenteritis in young children
fell by 15% overall after the vaccine introduction, and by 41% in the
months where rotavirus circulation was historically high. Rates also
decreased in older children and to a lesser degree in adults.
The researchers went on to estimate that across GPs, hospital
admissions and Emergency Departments, 87,376 visits by children under
five were averted in the first year of the vaccination program. This
was associated with an estimated Ģ12.5 million reduction in healthcare
Lead author Dr Sara Thomas from the London School of Hygiene
& Tropical Medicine, said: "This study helps to give a more complete
picture of the impact of rotavirus vaccination, and shows the rapid
reduction in the burden of acute gastroenteritis seen in GP surgeries.
"We found that the expected seasonal peak of acute
gastroenteritis in the months when rates historically would have been
high completely disappeared. The fact that GP visits for gastroenteritis
in other age groups fell provides evidence that unvaccinated older
individuals are also benefiting from the vaccine being introduced.
"Our new estimates of the tens of thousands of health service visits
by young children that have been averted, with a reduction in annual
healthcare costs of more than Ģ12 million, also provide important
information for assessing the overall benefits of introducing the
Study co-author Dr Shamez Ladhani, Immunization Consultant at
Public Health England, said: "This is good news and it is reassuring
that the rotavirus vaccine is preventing so many cases of vomiting and
diarrhea since it was introduced three years ago. This is thanks to the
high vaccine uptake in infants, which has also helped to protect older
unvaccinated children and adults of all ages across the UK. It is also
further evidence that our UK Immunization program is playing a vital
role in protecting the public's health."
Nicola Blackwood, the Minister for Public Health and Innovation
said: "This research shows the overwhelming public health benefit of
giving young children the rotavirus vaccination. This vaccine is keeping
children safe whilst freeing up more of doctors' and nurses' time and
saving money for the NHS."
The authors say that one potential limitation of the study is that
the decrease in acute gastroenteritis observed could be due to factors
other than the introduction of the vaccine. Analyses are now underway to
compare rates of acute gastroenteritis in vaccinated and unvaccinated
infants, to obtain direct estimates of the effectiveness of the vaccine.