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Rotavirus Vaccine


rotavirus vaccine



How It Works

Vaccines help your body make chemicals called antibodies to fight off a virus. This vaccine is given as pills (orally).

Why It Is Used

Rotaviruses are a common infection in children in Canada. Infection with a rotavirus usually causes stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes fever. Diarrhea, especially when it occurs along with vomiting, can quickly lead to dehydration in babies and young children who have rotavirus. Dehydration occurs when the body loses water more quickly than it is replaced. When you become dehydrated, you can develop severe health problems. Babies and young children can become dehydrated very quickly.

The rotavirus vaccine is recommended for children younger than 32 weeks of age. Children should get 2 or 3 doses, at least 4 weeks apart. Vaccination usually starts at around 6 to 14 weeks, with another dose at around 4 months and 6 months of age (if needed).

How Well It Works

The rotavirus vaccine protects about 98% of children from getting severe diarrhea caused by rotavirus. About 74% of children who get the vaccine do not get rotavirus diarrhea at all.footnote 1

Side Effects

Side effects of the rotavirus vaccine are usually minor but may include:

  • Fever.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Vomiting.

Even though serious allergic reactions are rare with this vaccine, call your doctor or local health unit right away if your child has trouble breathing, a high fever, or anything unusual after taking the vaccine.

A child who had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the rotavirus vaccine should not get another dose of this vaccine. Tell your doctor or nurse if your child has had a severe reaction to any vaccine or has severe allergies.

There is a small risk of intussusception from the rotavirus vaccination in the week after getting the first or second dose of the vaccine. Intussusception is a serious blockage of the intestine that must be treated in the hospital. It occurs in about 1 or 2 cases per 100,000 babies who get the vaccine.

Another rotavirus vaccine (Rotashield) was approved for use in the United States in 1998, but it was removed from the market within a year because of increased risk of serious intestinal problems in children who received the vaccine. This earlier vaccine was never approved for use in Canada, and public health experts are closely watching the current vaccines to make sure they are safe.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Although the rotavirus vaccine is recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the cost of the vaccine may not be covered under your provincial health plans.

Rotavirus vaccine is not recommended for children older than 32 weeks. Children who receive the vaccine should have the final dose in the series at around 24 weeks (6 months) of age or earlier.

Rotavirus vaccine will not prevent vomiting and diarrhea (gastroenteritis) caused by other germs. In Canada, about 1 in 5 cases of gastroenteritis are caused by rotavirus.footnote 1

Outbreaks of rotavirus usually occur in the winter and early spring, between about November and April. During these months, about 7 in 10 hospital visits for diarrhea in children ages 6 to 24 months are due to rotavirus infection.footnote 1

Rotavirus infections often spread in settings where many children are together, such as daycare centres. Almost all children in Canada and the United States are infected with rotavirus by age 5.



  1. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (2008). Statement on the recommended use of pentavalent human-bovine reassortant rotavirus vaccine. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 34(ACS-1): 1–33.


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