Rotavirus vaccines save poorest children

Researchers in Asia and Africa said this week that trials have shown rotavirus vaccines can save the lives of young children and that vaccination programs should begin immediately.

According to one of two reports that recently appeared in Lancet medical journal, the trial vaccines prevented between 39 to 48 percent of infections in some of the poorest countries of the world, Reuters reports.

Dr. John Victor, of the Seattle-based PATH non-profit development organization and author of one of the two Lancet studies, said he is urging governments in these developing nations to make the vaccines a priority.

“Rotavirus vaccines have the potential to protect the lives of nearly 2 million children in the next decade alone,” Victor told Reuters.

Victor said that his colleagues tested Merck's RotaTeq vaccine in the rural area of Matlab in Bangladesh and urban and semi-urban parts of Vietnam.

They reported that approximately 2,000 infants between one to three months got either three oral doses of the vaccine or a placebo. After two years, 38 vaccinated babies got severe rotavirus infections, compared to 71 babies that got the placebo, making the vaccine 48 percent effective against severe disease, according to the report.

“Our main goal is to prevent the most severe disease that might lead to death in areas where treatment is inaccessible,” Victor told Reuters.

Dr. George Armah of the University of Ghana told Reuters that the RotaTeq vaccine was tested in 5,400 children in Ghana, Kenya and Mali. He said the vaccine was 39 percent effective in preventing severe disease and 64 percent effective in children one year of age or younger.

“In Africa, where young children are dying from diarrheal disease and prompt medical care is often out of reach, the need to prevent rotavirus is especially urgent,” Armah told Reuters.

Dr. Anthony Nelson of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Dr Roger Glass of the U.S. National Institutes of Health said cost was a major issue.

“Reassuring governments in low-income countries that they will be able to purchase vaccine at a reasonable price, when support from the GAVI Alliance ends, will be the quickest way to encourage their introduction and to establish whether these vaccines will stand alongside smallpox, measles and poliomyelitis vaccines in their public health benefits,” they wrote in a statement, Reuters reports.

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