Significant Decline in Rotavirus After Implementation of Vaccine
Mar 17, 2011

Anne Schuchat, MD, said too many children around the world die from this vaccine-preventable disease.

Have you ever suffered from severe diarrhea?  How about uncontrolled vomiting?  Have you ever been so dehydrated that you experienced headaches and muscle cramps?  Certainly if you’ve ever experienced these symptoms, you know how unpleasant it can be.  But the truth is, they can also be dangerous; especially when a child suffers in the same way. 
What you may not know is that diarrhea is one of the top two killers worldwide of children under the age of 5 and rotavirus, which is the most common cause of severe diarrheal disease in children, is mostly to blame.  Symptoms of rotavirus disease may include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and dehydration and rotavirus accounts for more than 500,000 deaths of children each year.  Add to that the number of children that are hospitalized because of rotavirus, and the numbers approach 120 million.     
Fortunately, in the United States, the death rate from rotavirus infections is much lower because of successful hospital treatment of the often severe vomiting and diarrhea. However, every year in the United States rotavirus is estimated to be responsible for up to 70,000 hospitalizations, approximately 250,000 emergency room visits among children younger than 5 years of age and 60 deaths.  So while we may live in a country where treatment and vaccines are more accessible than in other parts of the world, today’s good news is that researchers are seeing an encouraging trend in countries that have introduced the rotavirus vaccine for infant children.   
As detailed at Pediatric Supersite, twelve studies, published as a special supplement to The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, have noted a significant decline in deaths and hospitalizations after the implementation of routine rotavirus vaccination and their findings are highlighted below.   In each case, the figures are representative of children under the age of 5 years.

  • In El Salvador, rotavirus hospitalization rates declined by 81% after only 2 ½ years from the first introduction of the rotavirus vaccine. 
  • In Mexico, there was a 40% decline in the span of 2 years, with no declines a month in unvaccinated children. 
  • In Panama, there was a 94% decrease within 2 years. 
  • In Australia, there was a 94% reduction in rotavirus-related hospitalizations in 2 years. 
  • In the US, there was an 86% reduction in rotavirus detections in the 3 years after the vaccine was introduced. 

These figures, as well as comments from several professionals in the field, help illustrate the effectiveness of the vaccine and the direct impact that vaccine implementation has had on limiting the disease burden, both in the US and abroad.  

Catherine Yen, MD, MPH, in referencing the research in El Salvador, explained “When a new vaccine is introduced, it generally takes some time for vaccine compliance to rise to levels comparable to other well-established vaccines. Thus, vaccine compliance with rotavirus vaccine was not expected to have reached full coverage at the time these vaccine impact studies were completed. However, even at lower coverage levels, we were able to see a substantial positive impact of rotavirus vaccines on disease burden.”
John Wecker, PhD, director of the Vaccine Access and Delivery Global Program at PATH, said “Wherever we look, in both the developed and developing worlds, we see a rapid and impressive reduction in rotavirus infections following the roll-out of vaccine.”
Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said “These studies add to the growing body of evidence that shows rotavirus vaccines are safe, effective and, most importantly, saving children’s lives in a press release about the studies.  Unfortunately, too many children around the world get severely ill or die from this preventable disease. We must continue to expand our efforts to ensure that children around the world have access to these vaccines.”

Hopefully, these findings should help parents in their decision to vaccinate against rotavirus.  Why would we want our children to suffer when there is an effective vaccine that could help prevent it?

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