Rotavirus vaccination in brief
|At six to nine weeks and again at three months after birth
|At least three years
|Most common side effects
|Children may be irritable and develop mild diarrhoea
Vaccination against the rotavirus is new in the Dutch National Immunisation Programme, but the vaccine used is an existing vaccine. The rotavirus vaccine has been used in a growing number of countries since 2006. In those countries, vaccination has resulted in a sharp fall in the number of hospitalisations.
The vaccine is a liquid in a small tube. Children get the vaccine by mouth, in drops. They do not get an injection.
More than a hundred countries have included rotavirus vaccination in their national immunisation programmes (see the overview on the WHO website). For example, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom have all done so. If you would like to know more about the rotavirus vaccine and vaccination schedules in other countries, visit the websites of the ECDC and the WHO.
After vaccination, children may feel slightly ill or get mild diarrhoea. These side effects are less serious and of shorter duration than the consequences for children of the rotavirus itself. As with all vaccines, extremely rare reactions such as a severe allergic reaction cannot be ruled out.
In addition, one extremely rare side effect is known.
During the first week after vaccination, there is a small risk that part of the intestine gets blocked or twisted, a condition known as intussusception. This can be treated effectively with proper medical care. In hospital, the doctor will try to fold back the segment of the intestine that has folded and slipped into another. Sometimes surgery is necessary.
What to look out for as a parent? When you are worried because you child has become very ill after vaccination, it is important to contact your GP. Symptoms that could indicate intussusception are severe abdominal pain (attacks), excessive crying, drawing up the knees, vomiting and stool material mixed with blood and/or mucus.
The risk of intussusception may be slightly higher during the first week after vaccination. However, some studies show that the risk does not increase or actually decreases after vaccination. In recent studies in other countries, researchers found no increase in cases of intussusception after the inclusion of rotavirus vaccination in the immunisation programme.
In the Netherlands, there are around 64 cases per year of spontaneous intussusception in babies (in other words, without vaccination and often without any clear cause). It is expected that rotavirus vaccination may add four extra cases of intussusception per year, at most. To minimise the risk of intussusception, children should preferably get their first vaccination before they are 12 weeks old (and the second when they are around three months old).
Side effects may occur during the first two weeks after vaccination, usually within eight days after vaccination. For a detailed description of possible side effects, see the information leaflet (external link) for the vaccine.
For more information and a list of reported cases of suspected side effects after vaccination, visit the website of the Netherlands Pharmacovigilance Centre Lareb. In these cases, the person reporting suspected that a side effect had occurred. In other words, it is not certain that there is a connection with the vaccine. The reported symptom may have been a physical reaction triggered by some other cause, which simply happened to occur at the same time as the vaccination.
Your child gets the vaccinations at these moments to make sure he/she is protected at the earliest possible stage and because the risk of serious side effects is lowest at those times. Rotavirus infections are particularly common among young children up to two years of age.
Various studies have been carried out into the effectiveness of rotavirus vaccines. In these studies, researchers examined the numbers of babies who were admitted to hospital with a rotavirus infection. They compared the babies who had been vaccinated with the babies who had not been vaccinated. All studies showed that the number of vaccinated babies with a rotavirus infection who ended up in hospital was 86% to 93% lower than the number of non-vaccinated babies in hospital.
A rotavirus vaccine contains three types of substances:
- Active substances: dead or weakened rotavirus particles. These active substances help the body build up immunity against the virus for which the vaccine was made.
- Excipients improve the effectiveness of the vaccine. Excipients have been carefully tested for safety.
- Residual substances are used in the production process to cultivate the virus and adapt it for use in a vaccine. These substances are removed from the vaccine as much as possible before it is put in a syringe or phial. However, the vaccine may still contain small residues when it is ready. These quantities are so small that they have no adverse health effects. The information leaflet lists all the components of the rotavirus vaccine.
The page What are vaccines made of? contains more information about the substances in vaccines.
Children born on or after 1 January 2024 will be offered vaccination against the rotavirus through the National Immunisation Programme.
If your child was born in 2023, you can arrange the vaccinations yourself through your GP or the Municipal Public Health Service (external link), provided that your child is not too old for this. The maximum age for the Rotarix® vaccine is 24 weeks, and the maximum age for the RotaTeq® vaccine is 33 weeks. The costs of the vaccine and of your GP visit are for your own account. You can consult your GP or the GGD(Municipal Public Health Service) if you are not sure if your child needs to be vaccinated.
If your child is ill on the day of vaccination, please contact the organisation that provides the vaccine. Ask if it is wise to proceed with vaccination. Sometimes it is decided to postpone vaccination.
Yes, there are. Rotavirus vaccination is unsuitable for some children. This includes children:
- who are less than six weeks old or who are at least 24 or 32 weeks old;
- with a prior history of intussusception, or when a segment of the intestine folds and slips into another segment;
- with a high risk of intussusception, such as children who have a polyp or Meckel’s diverticulum;
- with severe immunodeficiency, such as (suspected) severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).
If you are not sure if your child can be vaccinated, contact your doctor.
The Rotarix® vaccine is a live attenuated vaccine, meaning that the natural pathogen, the rotavirus, is weakened. This ensures that your child will not become ill, but still build up immunity against the rotavirus. Live attenuated vaccines provoke a reaction in the body. That reaction resembles a very mild form of the disease. This is why the vaccines ensure effective and long-term protection.
In September 2022, the State Secretary for VWS(Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport) decided to include rotavirus vaccination in the National Immunisation Programme. He made this decision in response to an advisory report by the Health Council of the Netherlands (2021).