U.K. selects GSK rotavirus vaccine for immunization program

The government of the United Kingdom chose GlaxoSmithKline's Rotarix vaccine for the nation's first routine rotavirus immunization program for infants and children to protect against the most common cause of severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Rotarix is a two-dose oral vaccine that is squirted into a baby's mouth. The vaccine will be added to the U.K. childhood immunization schedule for three years starting in September for all babies between six and 24 weeks of age, Reuters reports.

Adam Finn, a pediatrics professor at Bristol University, said that adding the vaccine to the program would cut down on vomiting and diarrhea epidemics that tend to occur every winter among young children and infants in Britain.

"It will also help hospitals cope in the busy winter months by reducing pressure on bed and front-line staff," Finn said, according to Reuters.

Rotavirus is a common, highly contagious virus that infects the stomach and bowels. Symptoms include diarrhea, gastroenteritis and vomiting.

Public health experts estimate that every young child in the United Kingdom will have at least one rotavirus infection prior to their fifth birthday.

Infections from rotavirus cost British taxpayers an estimated $23 million annually.

Vaccines for rotavirus are included in routine childhood immunization programs throughout the world, including in the United States, Belgium, Austria and Australia.

The GAVI Alliance, an organization that funds bulk immunization programs for poorer countries, is working on a rotavirus vaccination program in developing nations, Reuters reports.