January 21, 2011

Rotavirus Vaccination Efforts Appear To Be Working

A report showed on Thursday that countries that vaccinate babies against rotavirus, which can cause severe diarrhea and kill in days, have significantly reduced the number of children that have been hospitalized due to the disease.

Data from the U.S., Australia, Mexico and El Salvador show steep and swift falls in the number of children under five becoming ill with the virus.

The report showed large reductions in rotavirus disease among older, unvaccinated children, suggesting that vaccinating babies may also limit the overall amount of virus transmission.

"In both the developed and developing worlds, we see a rapid and impressive reduction in rotavirus infections following the roll-out of vaccine," Dr. John Wecker, director of the vaccine access and delivery global program at the non-profit organization PATH, said in a statement.

He said that these findings should compel policymakers and international donors to support World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations to introduce rotavirus vaccines in all countries as soon as possible.

Diarrhea is one of the top two killers of children under five around the globe, and rotavirus is the leading cause of the severe diarrheal disease.  Each year, rotavirus-related diarrhea kills over 500,000 children and is the cause of many millions more needing hospital treatment.

Firms like GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Sanofi-Aventis make rotavirus vaccines, which are now part of the regular vaccination schedule for babies in many wealthy and some middle-income countries.

The WHO recommends that all countries should include rotavirus vaccines into national vaccination programs, but many developing countries struggle to afford them.

The global vaccines alliance GAVI has committed to help fund rotavirus vaccine introduction in at least 40 of the world's poorest countries by 2015.  However, the alliance is facing a funding gap of almost $4 billion and is seeking extra donor money to fund these and other vaccines for undeveloped countries.

"Rotavirus vaccines have enormous potential to save lives, and it is tragic that they are not more widely available to the children who need them most," Helen Evans, GAVI's interim chief executive, said in a statement. "We urgently need to get these life-saving vaccines to children in developing countries."

The studies published in a supplement to The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal showed that there was a 40 percent decline in hospitalizations of children under five during the 2009 rotavirus season.

In Australia, there was an 89 to 94 percent reduction in the two years after vaccine introduction, while in the U.S. there was a 58 to 86 percent reduction over the three years following vaccine introduction in July 2006.

In El Salvador, the hospitalization rates for children under five with the rotavirus fell by 69 to 81 percent in the two and a half years following introduction of the vaccine in October 2006.


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