Drug Information

Rotavirus Vaccine

Rotavirus Vaccine

British Columbia Specific Information

Rotavirus is a virus that causes gastroenteritis, sometimes called the stomach flu. The rotavirus vaccine helps protect babies against diarrhea and vomiting caused by rotavirus. The rotavirus vaccine is part of the immunization schedule for infants and children in British Columbia at 2 and 4 months.

For more information on the rotavirus vaccine, see HealthLinkBC File #104 Rotavirus Vaccine. For more information on immunization schedules in B.C., including the schedule for infants and children, see our B.C. Immunization Schedules web page.


Generic Name Brand Name
rotavirus vaccine Rotarix, RotaTeq

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.

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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 2 months, 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. 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.

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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 is not currently covered under 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. 1

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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 age 6 to 24 months are due to rotavirus infection. 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.

Last Revised: May 17, 2012

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: John Pope, MD – Pediatrics & Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP – Family Medicine & William Atkinson, MD, MPH – Public Health and Preventive Medicine & Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC – Pediatrics