THE parents of every infant under four months old in Scotland are to be offered a vaccination for their child against an infection that puts thousands of babies in hospital every year.
The Scottish Government hopes to save millions of pounds in healthcare costs with immunisation for rotavirus, a common vomiting and diarrhoea bug.
Up to 1500 children are diagnosed with the infection in Scotland every year, with the Government predicting a 70% fall in hospital stays after introducing the Rotarix vaccine.
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Around 55,500 infants will get the vaccine, as part of the existing childhood immunisation programme, from September 2013.
Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson said: "Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhoea in young children and I welcome the use of any vaccine that can protect them.
"Rotavirus is highly contagious and can affect around 140,000 infants in the UK every year. I would encourage parents of young children to take up this vaccine when the programme begins."
The first of two doses of Rotarix, in oral drop form, will be added to immunisations offered at two months such as diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough. The second will be given at three months.
The programme will cost the Scottish Government around £2.5m. It is already used in several other countries including the US, where rotavirus-related hospital admissions have fallen by as much as 86%.
Scotland's vaccination programme cannot start straight away because it takes months for suppliers to make enough vaccine.
Dr David Elliman, immunisation specialist of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "This is an important advance as whilst rotavirus does not cause many deaths in the UK, it does cause a huge amount of suffering.
"Rotavirus affects large numbers of under-fives causing them diarrhoea for a few days.
"This vaccine will mean less pressure both on distressed parents who have to care for their children and, of course, the GPs and hospital services who are treating them.
"This is a vaccine that has been used for some years in the US, so though new to us there is a large body of experience showing that it is safe and effective."