All Canadian infants should be offered vaccination against rotavirus, a common cause of vomiting and diarrhea, pediatricians say.

Tuesday's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal includes an editorial that wages war against rotavirus at home and abroad.


The rotavirus vaccination helps prevent gastroenteritis in babies, which can result in severe dehydration that requires admission to hospital. (CBC)

Gastroenteritis in babies often results in severe dehydration that requires admission to hospital. In developing countries, the extremely contagious virus kills more than 450,000 per year, researchers say.

Everyone in the world gets the virus by the time they are five, said Dr. Marina Salvadori of the Children's Hospital of Western Ontario in London.

Salvadori wrote a position paper for the Canadian Pediatric Society on rotavirus that estimated in that in preschoolers, one in seven  children will seek health care, one in 20 will visit an emergency department or be hospitalized, and one in 62 will be hospitalized.

More than half of rotavirus hospitalizations occur in babies aged six to 24 months.  

In Canada, oral vaccines against rotavirus are publicly covered only in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, despite recommendations from the Canadian Pediatric Society and National Advisory Committee on Immunization to add it list of routine vaccines across the country.

"Canada should encourage and support developing countries to heed the WHO's call for global rotavirus vaccination," the editorial concludes.

"Yet it hard for us to advocate credibly to others for what we are failing to adopt ourselves."

Getting bang for the buck

Pediatrician Dr. Marvin Gans in Toronto also wants to see provinces pay up to $200 for the oral vaccine for babies.

"The younger you are, the lesser reserve you have," Gans said.

By paying for the vaccine for all babies, there would be less illness spread among babies attending daycare or play groups, Gans said.

Nova Scotia currently does not pay for rotavirus vaccination. The Canadian Centre for Vaccinology and Capitol Health in Nova Scotia are studying the burden of the virus in that province and in P.E.I. to guide funding decisions.

"We have limited resources, so part of my role is to lead a thorough analysis and say what's going to have the biggest impact, the biggest bang for our dollar," said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief public health officer.

Other competing public health needs include a new meningococcal vaccine coming down the pipeline, newer influenza vaccines, controlling communicable diseases, building healthy communities and encouraging healthy lifestyles and nutrition, Strang added.

"Once it's publicly funded, we've had excellent uptake," Salvadori said.

With files from CBC's Kelly Crowe and Pauline Dakin