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Call for Rotavirus Vaccine Funding

Doctors, families and child-care groups are calling on the Federal Government to fund a new oral vaccine designed to protect children// from stomach bugs.

Rotavirus puts 10,000 Australian children in hospital each year, with many more turning up at hospital emergency wards and at doctors' surgeries with symptoms of acute diarrhoea and vomiting.

The rotavirus vaccine, to be given to children aged six to 32 weeks, is only available by private prescription at a cost of up to $300 for each child.

Dr Rachel David, public affairs director for CSL Biotherapies, one of two companies marketing the vaccine in Australia, said it would cost the Government $25 million to $28 million a year to fund it.

However, she estimated the vaccine would save the health-care industry up to $30 million a year in the cost of treating the virus.

"On average 27 children are admitted to hospital with rotavirus each day and even more in winter," she said.

"It's a problem which has placed significant strain on hospitals. Some wards are being closed and elective surgery cancelled because of it."

The vaccine was registered for use in Australia last year, and in October the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee recommended it be included in a national immunisation program, giving it the green light for the Government to approve.

Professor Elizabeth Elliott, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital Westmead, said approval needed to be sooner rather than later.

"Every child aged under five is expected to contract the rotavirus at some point," she said. "Rotavirus season is just around the corner and every month vaccine funding is delayed, thousands of infants and their families suffer unnecessarily."

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, said funding approval for the vaccine had to go through cabinet because a program would cost more than $10 million.

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