PATH study finds rotavirus vaccine effective in African infants


A vaccine against rotavirus, a virus that causes severe and often fatal diarrhea, reduced episodes of severe illness from the virus in infants in Africa by two-thirds, according to a study coordinated by the Seattle global health organization PATH and the vaccine’s maker GlaxoSmithKline.

Dr. Kathleen Neuzil, a senior advisor on immunizations for PATH, is the senior author on the paper.

Each year, more than 525,000 children under age 5 die worldwide from rotavirus infections, with nearly half of those deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rotavirus vaccines have been shown to be effective in trials conducted in Europe, Latin America and the U.S., but there was concern that the vaccine might not work as well when given to poor children in the developing world.

The study, which appear in today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, was conducted the sub-Saharan countries of Malawi and South Africa. The vaccine, called Rotarix, is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals.

In the study more than 4,900 infants were randomly assigned to three groups: one group received two doses of the vaccine, which is given by mouth; one group received three doses; and one group received three placebo doses.

The researchers found that during the first year of life, 4.9 percent of the children who had received the placebo developed severe rotavirus gastroenteritis compared to only 1.9 percent of the children who had received either the two or three dose regimen, signifying a two-thirds reduction on illnesses.

This was less than the reductions seen in Europe and Latin American studies, which included low-income populations, but consistent with what has been seen with other oral vaccines when given in poor developing countries.

Video about a PATH rotavirus vaccine project in Nicaragua

Another paper appearing in the same issue of the journal, reports that since the rotavirus vaccines were introduced into Mexico, death rates from diarrheal disease among children age two and younger have dropped more than 65 percent.

PHOTO: Rotavirus by Dr. Erskine Palmer / CDC

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