On rare occasions, a new vaccine or drug will work so well that a previously untreatable disease or condition quickly becomes a distant memory. It doesn t happen often, but when it does, the entire game changes in one inning.
Salk's polio vaccine and penicillin are obvious examples of game changing discoveries from the past, and the design of drugs to hold HIV in check and and other drugs to cure hepatitis C are recent examples.
Beginning eight years ago, rotavirus a ubiquitous childhood infection that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea became quite preventable, following FDA approval of Merck s RotaTeq vaccine. One of the inventors was Dr. Paul Offit, the chief of the Children s Hospital of Philadelphia Division of Infectious Diseases, and an ACSH Trustee.
Two years later, GlaxoSmithKline s Rotarix, a similar vaccine, was also approved.
Although rotavirus a children s versionof norovirus, aka the stomach flu, which infects essentially all children is rarely life threatening in developed countries, it nonetheless causes its share of misery and expense (hospitalizations), even in the US.
Here, prior to 2006, rotavirus was responsible for between 55 and 70 thousand hospitalizations and 20-60 deaths per year.
And in under-developed countries, where clean water and rehydration are not readily available, it is a killer. So much so that in 2013 the World Health Organization recommended the widespread use of the vaccines in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa where the infection is not just an inconvenience. The WHO estimates that 453,000 children die each year from the virus a number that almost rivals the terrible toll of malaria.
Pediatricians across the country have been singing praises of these vaccines ever since, but now a new study in the journal Pediatrics by Dr. Eyal Leshem, and coworkers of the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the CDC in Atlanta demonstrates how well this miserable pathogen can be prevented and controlled. The answer: Very well. The vaccines are that good.
They are so good, in fact, that in 2010-2011, the rate of rotavirus caused hospitalizations decreased by 92-96 percent from pre-vaccine times, depending on which vaccine was used. In addition to preventing a disease that makes children quite sick, the use of the vaccines saved $924 million in rotavirus-related treatment.
We recommend that you read the compelling opinion piece by Russell Saunders, (a pseudonym for a New England pediatrician) in The Daily Beast.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom says, This is as close to a perfect win-win as you ll ever see. One of the concerns of the first vaccine RotaShield from Wyeth was that is caused a small number of cases of intussusception, a serious condition that can cause intestinal blockage. This would seem to have been solved. According to the FDA: The number of intussusception cases reported to date after RotaTeq administration does not exceed the number expected based on background rates of 18-43 per 100,000 per year for an unvaccinated population of children ages 6 to 35 weeks.
In other words, nothing.
Dr. Bloom recommends that you read the comments at the end of Daily Beast piece. He says, The comments sections contains pretty much what you d expect. But I m particularly offended that some idiots maintain that because Dr. Offit made money on his invention (and when did this become wrong, exactly?) that the vaccine is either not useful or harmful. Fine don t take it. But you shouldn t stray far from a bathroom.