Rotavirus can cause diarrhea, vomiting, pain in the abdomen, and fever. These symptoms may lead to dehydration in infants and young children. The rotavirus vaccine is commonly administered in infants younger than 6 months and can prevent severe illness.

This multidose vaccine is taken by mouth. It has reduced a significant number of doctor’s visits, emergency room trips, and hospitalizations in children under 5 since 2006, when the United States approved the first rotavirus vaccine.

Rotavirus is commonly spread in infants and young children. This can happen from contact with feces or from surfaces, including toys and hands. The symptoms it causes can be severe in young children, including dehydration, which when untreated, can be fatal.

This virus is most common in winter and spring months but can occur at all times of the year. With the vaccine, the virus is now less predictable and generally has a shorter season.

In the U.S., there are two types of rotavirus vaccines available. Globally, there are four prequalified by the World Health Organization.

The two vaccines in the U.S. require multiple doses and must be given to very young infants:

Vaccine brandNumber of dosesAge for doses
RotaTeq32, 4, and 6 months
Rotarix22 and 4 months

Infants can only receive the vaccine if they have their first dose prior to 15 weeks and their second dose before they are 8 months.

Your infant can receive the rotavirus vaccine along with others at a doctor’s appointment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccine is 90% effective against severe rotavirus and 70% effective against any severity of the virus.

Rotavirus vaccines have been available in the U.S. since 2006. Prior to that, the virus was the leading cause of diarrhea in infants and young children. It led to 400,000 visits to the doctor, 200,000 emergency room visits, and 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations, according to the CDC.

In countries with high mortality, the rotavirus vaccine prevented 27% of deaths from all causes in children under 5.

There are few side effects associated with this vaccine. These include:

  • irritability
  • mild diarrhea
  • mild vomiting

There is a very rare side effect of intussusception. This is a condition that blocks the bowels. It’s estimated to affect between 1 in 20,000 infants without the vaccine and 1 in 100,000 infants who get the vaccine. This condition would occur within about 1 week of your infant receiving the vaccine.

Vaccines of all kinds may cause an allergic reaction, including the rotavirus vaccine.

Some vaccines have components of eggs, which can trigger an allergy in some people, but rotavirus vaccines have no egg components. A reaction is still possible with other components.

The vaccine generally greatly reduces the risk of your child developing a severe case of the condition for several years.

Around the world, rotavirus accounts for 40% of hospitalizations from diarrhea in children younger than 5. This symptom is a leading cause of death in young children globally.

There are a few reasons you may skip or delay a rotavirus vaccination in your infant:

  • if they are allergic to the vaccine or have other severe allergies
  • if they have a weak immune system or severe combined immunodeficiency
  • if they have intussusception

You may want to delay a rotavirus vaccine for a short time if your infant is sick with something more severe than a cold. You can return for the vaccine when they recover as long as it is within the window for the vaccine.

Discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor before skipping or delaying this vaccine.

You may have more questions about the rotavirus vaccine prior to your child receiving it. Here are some answers to common questions.

How is the rotavirus vaccine administered?

The vaccine is a liquid that a medical professional will put right into your infant’s mouth to swallow. It is not administered with an injection like many other vaccines.

How does the rotavirus vaccine work?

The vaccine is a weakened version of the virus. It will enter your infant’s body and their body will create immunity to the virus. If they are exposed to the virus later, they will not get it or will get a much less severe version of it.

Can the rotavirus vaccine be given after 6 months, or after 12 months?

Your infant must get the first dose by 15 weeks of age and the final dose before 32 weeks (8 months). For optimal protection, the last dose should be given at or before your child is 6 months old, depending on the particular vaccine series.

How many rotavirus vaccines are required?

Both vaccines approved in the U.S. require multiple doses. Your child needs three doses of RotaTeq or two doses of Rotarix.

The rotavirus vaccine is an effective way to prevent severe rotavirus-related illness in infants and young children. The routine vaccine schedule recommends completing the series by 6 months, though catch-up vaccination is available up to the age of 8 months if needed.

Your infant will receive the vaccine by mouth. There are some side effects from the vaccine, but they are generally mild. Speak with your child’s doctor if you have any questions or concerns about the vaccine.