Another vaccine success story: Rotavirus vaccine provided at reduced price in Africa

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For children in the developed world (and their parents), rotavirus a childhood equivalent to norovirus (the stomach flu) is very unpleasant, but usually self-limiting. However, the vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which often means a trip to the hospital.

Indeed, as we reported back in May, before the only two rotavirus vaccines were approved in 2006, (Rotarix by GlaxoSmithKline and RotaTeq by Merck) the disease led to more than 200,000 annual emergency room visits, 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations and 20 to 60 child deaths in the United States alone. But once the vaccine became available, hospitalizations from the infection dropped by 96 percent and severe cases dropped by 98 percent. Pretty amazing.

And if that sounds good, the news is far better in undeveloped countries, where about 500,000 children used to die annually from rotavirus especially in places where rehydration is not readily available.

in Africa at greatly reduced prices, which will no doubt save many lives.

In the latest JAMA, Paul A. Gastanaduy, M.D., M.P.H., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues back this up. Gastanaduy says, Implementation of infant rotavirus vaccination in 2006 has substantially reduced the burden of severe gastroenteritis among U.S. children younger than 5 years.

But the protection is not limited to children. They are the primary carriers of the infection and can thus infect older children and adults.

Gastanaduy adds, The pattern of observed reductions in gastroenteritis discharges among unvaccinated older children and adults is consistent with indirect protection resulting from infant rotavirus vaccination. These results point to the primacy of children in the transmission of rotavirus and illustrate how indirect benefits may amplify the effect of the U.S. rotavirus vaccination program. In other words, as is the case with other vaccines, herd immunity is another benefit.

It should be noted that Dr. Paul Offit, a co-inventor of RotaTeq, is one of the members of of the ACSH Board of Trustees.