LONDON (Reuters) - GlaxoSmithKline's Rotarix vaccine has been chosen for Britain's first routine rotavirus immunisation programme to protect babies and children against the most common cause of severe diarrhoea and vomiting.
Rotarix, a two-dose oral vaccine squirted into the baby's mouth, will be added to the childhood immunisation schedule for three years from September 2013 to vaccinate all babies aged 6-24 weeks, the government said.
Rotavirus is a common and highly contagious virus that infects the bowel and stomach, swiftly causing gastroenteritis, or diarrhoea and vomiting.
It is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in babies and young children in Britain, where public health experts estimate every child will have at least one rotavirus infection before their fifth birthday.
Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at Bristol University said the new vaccination would help cut down epidemics of diarrhoea and vomiting in babies and young children that occur every winter in Britain.
"It will also help hospitals cope in the busy winter months by reducing pressure on beds and front-line staff," he said.
Rotavirus vaccines are already included in routine childhood immunisation programmes across the world including in Australia, Austria, Belgium and the United States.
The GAVI Alliance, which funds bulk-buy immunisation programmes for poorer countries, is also helping to roll out rotavirus vaccines in developing nations.
In Britain, rotavirus infections have been estimated to cost the taxpayer-funded National Health Service at least 14.2 million pounds ($23 million) a year.
Rival U.S. drugmaker Merck also makes a rotavirus vaccine called Rotateq.
($1 = 0.6262 pound)
Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Dan Lalor