THE Public Health Agency (PHA) is launching a new childhood vaccination programme to protect babies against a diarrhoea and vomiting bug.
In Northern Ireland, the rotavirus infection is responsible for around 4,000 GP visits and 400 hospitalisations every year in children under five years.
From Monday, the routine childhood immunisation schedule will include the rotavirus vaccine to protect babies.
It is understood about 25,000 infants a year in NI will be offered the vaccine.
Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said rotavirus was an infection of the lower gut that caused “vomiting and diarrhoea in thousands of young babies every year”.
“Most babies recover at home, but in some cases they can become dehydrated and may need hospital treatment,” he said.
“Rotavirus spreads easily through hand-to-mouth contact and can be picked up from surfaces such as toys, hands or dirty nappies.
“It can also be spread through the air.
“Washing hands and keeping surfaces clean can help reduce the spread of the virus but will never completely stop it. Vaccination is a much more effective way to protect infants from getting infected.
“The vaccine has been used in other countries, including America, for some time now and millions of doses have been given. We can therefore be confident in saying that this is a very safe vaccine.”
The PHA said babies attending for vaccination from Monday, 1 July would be offered the vaccine “as part of their two and three-month vaccination appointments with their local GP”.
The vaccine will be administered as a droplet directly into the babies’ mouth.
Dr Smithson added: “The first dose cannot be given to babies 15 weeks or over.
“The second dose should be given four weeks after the first dosage and must be before 24 weeks of age. It is therefore important that babies attend their appointments at the correct time.”