Hundreds of thousands of babies are to be vaccinated against a virulent stomach bug that can be so severe one in ten sufferers needs to be admitted to hospital, the Department of Health has announced.
All babies are to be offered two doses of rotavirus vaccine, given as a mouth drops by the age of four months, from next winter.
The bug is the main causes of stomach upsets in young children and causes around 140,000 diarrhoea cases a year in under fives.
It leads to hospital stays for nearly one in ten, around 14,000 of those who get it in the UK.
Experts welcomed the move saying rotavirus casues enormous amounts of suffering for children and puts pressure on the NHS during the busy winter months.
It is estimated that the vaccine will halve the number of vomiting and diarrhoea cases caused by rotavirus and there could be 70 per cent fewer hospital stays as a result.
The vaccine, Rotarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, will be available for 840,000 babies each year. It is already used in USA, Australia, Austria, and Belgium.
The World Health Organisation recommended in 2009 that all children globally be vaccinated against rotavirus.
In America studies have shown that rotavirus-related hospital admissions for young children have been cut by more than two thirds since rotavirus vaccination was introduced.
The latest figures from the Health Protection Agency show that rotavirus cases are higher than expected for this time of year with laboratory confirmed cases up by a third compared to the average.
The report from the HPA said: "Rotavirus will particularly contribute to reported diarrhoea and vomiting illness in children aged under five and is often associated with outbreaks of diarrhoea and vomiting in nurseries and schools."
The addition of rotavirus will mean children are vaccinated against 11 diseases before the age of five, in ten separate jabs and two mouth doses of mouth drops.
There are also plans to introduce an annual flu vaccine for children aged between two and 17 from 2014, using a nasal spray.
Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation said: "Rotavirus spreads very easily and affects around 140,000 children every year, causing distress for them and their families.
"Many people think of diarrhoea as something that all children get and that you have to put up with. But there is a way to protect children from this. I'd encourage all parents of young children to accept this vaccine when the programme begins next year."
The decision comes after the experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) concluded a national programme was cost effective.
The programme is expected to cost around £25 million a year but is expected to save the NHS around £20 million per year through fewer stays in hospital, fewer GP and A&E visits and fewer calls to NHS Direct.
Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said: 2It is upsetting to see our children ill in hospital. Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhoea in young children and this vaccine will protect our children and reduce hospital admissions for serious rotavirus infection."
Prof Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Bristol, said: "Rotavirus causes large epidemics of diarrhoea and vomiting in babies and young children every winter and with it, misery for thousands of families across the country.
"The vaccine, which is going to be introduced in the UK next year, is given by mouth at the same time as other routine vaccines starting at 2 month of age. It has been used in other countries including the USA, Mexico and Belgium for several years and it's clear that it works well.
"I'm pleased that another unpleasant illness that affects most children is going to be brought under control. It will also help hospitals cope in the busy winter months by reducing pressure on beds and front-line staff."
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."