Babies to be eligible for rotavirus vaccine Monday, 28 April 2014

The introduction of free rotavirus vaccinations is being marked at the start of Immunisation Week.

Babies being born during April will be among the first who are eligible for the free rotavirus vaccine, which starts on July 1.

The theme of this year's Immunisation Week is on time, every time, Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew says.

Rotavirus vaccine will be given alongside the existing childhood vaccinations at six weeks, three months and five months.

"Usually with those vaccines, if you're late you can catch up. But for rotavirus, babies must have the first of three doses before they are 15-weeks-old. If they're too late, then babies will miss out," Mrs Goodhew says.

Mrs Goodhew is encouraging parents to enrol their babies at a GP practice as soon as they are born, to make sure they get their early immunisations on time.

"Almost every young child will catch rotavirus at some point before they are three years old, unless they're immunised. Most recover in a few days without any treatment, but hundreds of babies and young children each year are admitted to hospital with complications such as dehydration."

The vaccine is part of Australia's immunisation programme, where it has resulted in a 70% decrease in hospitalisations for rotavirus. In New Zealand, this would mean 266 fewer children would be hospitalised each year.