Find out why and when your baby needs the rotavirus vaccine.

Why does my kid need the rotavirus vaccine?

The rotavirus vaccine, called RotaTeq, protects your child against a bug called rotavirus, which causes a nasty stomach flu. This strain of virus may make children sicker than others that cause stomach flu. Before this vaccine was introduced in 2006, rotavirus was responsible for about 400,000 doctor visits and 200,000 emergency room trips in the U.S. every year.

RotaTeq protects against the five main strains of rotavirus, but there's also some evidence that it may protect against more, says Neal Halsey, MD, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland and a member of the Parents magazine board of advisors. In studies, the rotavirus vaccine prevented 74 percent of all vomiting and diarrhea cases caused by rotavirus and 98 percent of severe ones. It also reduced hospitalizations by 96 percent.

Rotavirus is very contagious and, as a result, very common in young kids. Your child's most likely to get infected between November and May, especially if he hasn't received the vaccine and is regularly exposed to lots of other kids through daycare or playgroups.

As with other viruses, there's no quick treatment if your child contracts rotavirus -- you have to let the bug run its course. Parents should watch their children closely and keep them hydrated, since dehydration is a common and serious side effect from rotavirus. In severe cases, a baby can become dehydrated in as little as six hours.

What's the recommended rotavirus vaccine schedule?

Babies should receive this oral vaccine (no shots!) in three doses, once at 2 months (they must get the first dose by 12 weeks), and then at 4 months, and 6 months. All three doses must be completed before your infant is 7 months old.

This vaccine can be given at the same time as others.

Who shouldn't get the rotavirus vaccine?

While the rotavirus vaccine is one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended childhood vaccinations, children who fall into the following categories should not receive it:

  • Babies who are moderately or severely ill (more than just a cold, for example) should wait to get vaccinated
  • Babies who've had an allergic reaction to a previous rotavirus vaccine
  • Babies older than 32 weeks (7 months). All three doses must be given by this age
  • Babies with ongoing digestive problems

Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about whether or not the rotavirus vaccine is safe for your child.

Are there any side effects from the rotavirus vaccine?

Slight side effects are associated with the rotavirus vaccine. Within a week of getting a dose, babies are slightly more likely to have mild, temporary diarrhea or vomiting.

In the 1990s a different kind of rotavirus vaccine was developed, but was soon taken off the market. In rare cases, this version of the vaccine could cause a type of bowel obstruction called intussusception. But before the Food and Drug Administration approved today's rotavirus vaccine (RotaTeq), it was safely tested in more than 70,000 children with no serious side effects. Experts agree that the current version of the vaccine is very safe.

As with any vaccine, severe allergic reactions are very rare, but possible. If you notice your child having difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, dizziness, or a rapid heartbeat shortly after receiving a shot, call your doctor right away.

Is the rotavirus vaccine really necessary?

Though many children who come down with rotavirus will recover on their own, experts still recommend that babies get the vaccine for the following reasons:

  • Rotavirus is so contagious, especially during winter months, that it can be difficult to prevent. In severe cases, babies and young children may need to go to the emergency room to get rehydrated.
  • If your child still manages to contract rotavirus (the vaccine isn't 100 percent effective), the severity of the illness will not be as bad (less vomiting, diarrhea, and risk of dehydration).
  • The rotavirus vaccine may also reduce side effects from other strains of stomach flu viruses.

Sources: Neal Halsey, MD, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland and a member of the Parents magazine board of advisors. Stanley Cohen, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children's Center for Digestive Health Care in Atlanta, Georgia. David B. Nelson, MD, chair and professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC. Rita Steffen, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. FDA section on RotaTeq. CDC sections Rotavirus Vaccination.

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