Doctor vaccinating small redhead girl.
March 24, 2017

New rotavirus vaccine could save 600 children every day

A new, low-cost oral vaccine against rotavirus that could prevent 600 to 1,300 children per day from dying as a result of the diarrheal disease has proven effective in clinical trials, according to new research published earlier this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The randomized, placebo-controlled trial, led by Doctors Without Borders and conducted in the Maradi region of Niger, showed that three doses of the oral vaccine BRV-PV had an efficacy of 66.7% against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis in trials involving more than 3,500 infants.

During an interview with The Guardian, Doctors Without Borders medical director Dr. Micaela Serafini called the study “a game changer,” in part because the vaccine is heat resistant and can survive for several months at a time in desert-like conditions. “We believe that the new vaccine can bring protection against rotavirus to the children who need it most,” she added.

BRV-PV, the researchers explained, can remain stable for up to one year at temperatures of 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) or for six months at 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) without being refrigerated. Furthermore, it costs only $2.50 (£2) to produce and is most effective against the rotavirus strain found in sub-Saharan Africa, the UK newspaper noted.

Vaccine could provide treatment where it is needed most

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among infants and children worldwide, and youngsters who live in lower-income countries are most affected due to the lack of clean water and proper sanitation.

In fact, The Guardian reported that more than four-fifth of all global rotavirus deaths take place in the world’s poorest countries, as the highly contagious pathogen is spread due to contaminated objects such as toys or surfaces, or through tainted food or water. However, they noted, vaccines have been proven to reduce diarrhea-related fatalities by up to 50 percent.

While, as NPR explained, this is not the first rotavirus vaccine, it is the first designed specifically for use in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Niger trial is the first to have been approved in an African country. The study found no significant safety concerns with the treatment, and experts hope that it will help overcome the lack of availability of alternatives that require refrigeration.

“This is a fantastic new development,” Zulfiqar Bhutta, a global health expert from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto who was not involved in the trial, told NPR. “You don't have to lug a cold box scores of kilometers to reach kids in very rural places. This is important for increasing the reach of the vaccine, for reaching those who need the vaccine the most – the poorest of the poor.”

“The success of this trial shows that research and development into vaccines that are specifically adapted for use in low-income countries yield results,” Dr. Serafini added, according to CBS News. “The quicker this vaccine is prequalified by the WHO, the sooner it can be used to prevent the deaths of thousands of children in the countries where it is needed most.”

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