There has been a sharp fall in primary care visits for acute gastroenteritis following the introduction of rotavirus vaccination in England, according to researchers.
Their study, published in the journal Vaccine, estimated that 87,000 visits and £12.5m in healthcare costs have been averted across general practice, hospitals and emergency departments.
“We found that the expected seasonal peak… completely disappeared”
It found the fall in visits was biggest among young children that received the rotavirus vaccination, but there was also a decrease in visits by older children and adults, suggesting “herd immunity”.
The study authors, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Public Health England, noted that rotavirus was the commonest cause of acute gastroenteritis in young children and resulted in considerable use of health services in the UK.
The UK-wide rotavirus vaccination programme was introduced in 2013. The vaccine is given as oral drops in two doses, to babies aged between two and three months old.
Previous research has shown that the introduction of the programme has resulted in a decrease in admissions and emergency department visits for acute gastroenteritis among adults and children.
The new study used primary care data to look at the impact on GP visits and went on to estimate the visits and healthcare costs averted in England across all healthcare settings.
“This vaccine is keeping children safe whilst freeing up more of doctors’ and nurses’ time”
In GP surgeries, rates of acute gastroenteritis in young children fell by 15% overall in the two years after the vaccine introduction, and by 41% in the months where rotavirus circulation was historically high. Rates also decreased in older children and to a lesser degree in adults.
The researchers went on to estimate that across GPs, hospital admissions and emergency departments, 87,376 visits by children under five were averted in the first year of the vaccination programme. This was associated with an estimated £12.5m reduction in healthcare costs.
However, they noted that the decrease in acute gastroenteritis observed could be due to factors other than the introduction of the vaccine.
Rotavirus vaccine ‘sparks fall in practice visits’
Analyses are now underway to compare rates of acute gastroenteritis in vaccinated and unvaccinated infants, to obtain direct estimates of the effectiveness of the vaccine, they said.
Lead study author Dr Sara Thomas, from LSTHM, said: “This study helps to give a more complete picture of the impact of rotavirus vaccination, and shows the rapid reduction in the burden of acute gastroenteritis seen in GP surgeries.
“We found that the expected seasonal peak of acute gastroenteritis in the months when rates historically would have been high completely disappeared,” she said.
She added: “The fact that GP visits for gastroenteritis in other age groups fell provides evidence that unvaccinated older individuals are also benefitting from the vaccine being introduced.
Co-author Dr Shamez Ladhani, from Public Health England, said it was “reassuring” that the rotavirus vaccine was preventing “so many cases of vomiting and diarrhoea since it was introduced three years ago”, which he attributed to the high vaccine uptake in infants.
Nicola blackwood 3x2
Public health minister Nicola Blackwood noted that the research findings proved the “overwhelming public health benefit” of giving young children the rotavirus vaccination.
“This vaccine is keeping children safe whilst freeing up more of doctors’ and nurses’ time and saving money for the NHS,” she said.