09 March 2015

NSW Health is reminding parents and carers of the importance of vaccinating infants against rotavirus after a study published in the international journal, Vaccine, showed Emergency Department (ED) presentations of gastroenteritis due to rotavirus had more than halved in children under five years since the rotavirus vaccination program was introduced in 2007, a 2370 fall in cases per year

The study found in the fourth year of the vaccination program, annual rotavirus-attributable ED presentations were 77 per cent lower than the pre-vaccination annual average at 996 versus 4300 presentations per year.

Lead author, Dr Heather Davey, from NSW Health’s Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence said the research provided compelling evidence of the importance of the rotavirus vaccination for all infants.

“This study is the first Australian study to demonstrate a sustained association between the introduction of the funded rotavirus vaccination program and reducing ED presentations for gastroenteritis due to rotavirus in young children,” Dr Davey said.

“We were encouraged to see that the introduction of the rotavirus vaccination program has been associated with a significant decrease for all acute gastroenteritis presentations as well as those due to rotavirus among young children treated in EDs in NSW.

“The focus on presentations to EDs was important as it enabled our research team to distinguish the impact on less severe presentations compared with where the child was admitted to hospital.

“The drop in ED presentations, together with the substantial decline in rotavirus hospitalisations observed nationally in the under-five age group, provides comprehensive evidence of the substantial benefit of vaccination on rotavirus disease in Australian children,” Dr Davey said.

The study was a collaboration between NSW Health’s Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District Public Health Unit and the University of New South Wales.

Rotavirus statistics: Worldwide, rotavirus is the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis in children aged under-five years, with almost all children in this age group infected at least once. The World Health Organization estimated that 453,000 children aged under-five years died from rotavirus in 2008, with deaths mostly confined to developing and middle income countries.

Australia was one of the first countries to introduce a nationally funded vaccination program for rotavirus, commencing for all infants on 1 July 2007. Before rotavirus vaccines were included in the Australian National Immunisation Program, rotavirus was estimated to account annually for 10,000 hospitalisations, 22,000 Emergency Department (ED) presentations (excluding children subsequently admitted to hospital), and 115,000 presentations to primary care providers in under five years of age.

This was at a cost to the Australian health care system of $30 million ($AUD). This estimate excluded societal costs such as income lost by carers, which add considerably to the overall cost of disease.​