rotavirus vaccine
June 10, 2014

Vaccine For Rotavirus Has Resulted In Lower Hospitalization And Death Rates

Rebekah Eliason for - Your Universe Online

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta has discovered that as the rotavirus vaccine has become more common, the amount of children who are hospitalized from rotavirus-related diarrhea has significantly decreased.

Dr. Eyal Leshem of the CDC told Reuters reporter Kathryn Doyle, “We looked at the impact of the vaccine over four consecutive vaccine years. The dramatic decline we saw at the beginning has continued.”

Leshem also noted that rotavirus is responsible for severe diarrhea and the hospitalization of children. Approximately twenty to sixty children in the US die from the virus each year.

In other countries where there is less access to healthcare, the virus causes even more damage.

“Worldwide, about 450,000 children died each year due to rotavirus before a vaccine was licensed,” Dr. Evan Anderson, who studies rotavirus infection at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, told Doyle.

Anderson also noted that “the virus is spread by contact with infected stool, usually by fecal-oral transmission, and it is incredibly infectious. About 10 billion viral particles exist in a gram of stool and only about 100 are needed to cause infection.”

In addition, Anderson explained to Doyle that older children and even adults can develop a life-threatening infection from rotavirus.

In the US the rotavirus vaccine was introduced in 1998 but quickly pulled the next year because there was evidence the vaccine caused a blocked bowel in babies.

In 2006 the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that a new rotavirus vaccine be given to all children. The new vaccine consists of three doses given orally at two, four and six months of age. A two-dose vaccine became available in 2008.

Tests from the new vaccine have not shown the same bowel-related side effects.

According to Leshem and other coauthors of the study, of the roughly 400,000 children from 37 states, 64 percent of infants less than one year of age were vaccinated in 2006 and by 2010 the rate rose to 78 percent.

Between the years 2001 and 2006, according to records from an insurance claims database from 2001 to 2011, there was no change in the rate of pediatric visits and hospitalizations for diarrhea. In contrast, the rate of rotavirus hospitalizations lowered by 75 percent in 2007. According to the results published in Pediatrics, between 2007 and 2011 the rate of rotavirus hospitalizations per year stayed at least 60 percent lower than the rate in 2006.

Additionally, the vaccine helped protect unvaccinated children as well. Their rate of hospitalization from rotavirus also decreased in 2007 by 50 percent. This is due to the fact that if a certain amount of kids are vaccinated, less of the virus is circulated in the population which means there is a lower chance other kids can catch the virus. This phenomenon is known as “herd immunity,” reports Liz Szabo of USA Today.

Due to the rotavirus vaccine, authors estimate 177,000 hospitalizations, 242,000 emergency room visits and over a million outpatient visits for diarrhea of children below the age of five were avoided between 2007 and 2011. This is a total cost savings of approximately $924 million for the US healthcare system.

“One of the interesting findings we had was in one of the later years we saw a 94 percent decrease in hospitalization; rotavirus had practically disappeared in 2010,” Leshem told Reuters. “This is attributed to good vaccine effectiveness and high coverage.”

Leshem also said that the rotavirus vaccine seems to be similar to the measles vaccine in that once the vaccine becomes common the infection almost goes away completely.

According to Anderson, the rate of vaccination against rotavirus is still much lower than rates for other recommended vaccines.

“Unfortunately, there is a limited window during infancy for receiving the vaccine so a number of children are not able to receive the vaccine or are not completely vaccinated,” he said.

For certain kids, for example those with immune deficiencies, rotavirus vaccines are not recommended, but for most the benefits well outweigh the risks, Leshem said. If there are any side effects of the vaccines, they are very mild, he said.

“I would urge all parents to discuss this with their provider,” Leshem said.

“Not only does receiving the vaccine benefit their children, it also helps to protect other infants who are unable to receive rotavirus vaccination due to their underlying medical conditions,” Anderson said. “The findings of this study are good news for everyone.”