Evidence supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness – vaccines save lives

The CDC recently published robust evidence that supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness. There is nothing more powerful than epidemiological studies that show a correlation (and causality) between the drop in the incidence of a vaccine preventable disease immediately after wide introduction of a the vaccine itself in a relatively closed population.

What is rotavirus?

According to the CDC, rotavirus infection is mostly observed in infants and young children. However, even older children and adults are known to become infected with virus.

One of the primary issues with the rotavirus is that once a person has been exposed to infection, it takes about 2 days for the symptoms to appear. Thus, the virus can be easily passed between individuals before the infected child becomes symptomatic.

Rotavirus is spread easily in schools, daycare, and within houses. Good hygiene (handwashing) and cleanliness are important but are not enough to control the spread of the disease. You can be immaculately clean, but the virus just moves from person to person quickly and easily.

The rotavirus infection is not a minor one. Children who get infected may have severe watery diarrhea, often with vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. These symptoms can last for 3-8 days, during which the child has to be closely watched for dehydration and loss of appetite, dangerous conditions for infants and children.

Before the introduction of the vaccine in the USA in 2006, rotavirus infection caused significant morbidity among U.S. children, with an estimated 55,000–70,000 hospitalizations and 410,000 clinic visits annually. According to an analysis of 10 years of rotavirus infections in the USA before the introduction of the vaccine, rotavirus was estimated to be the cause of approximately 2.7 million (yes million) cases of severe gastroenteritis, 60,000 hospitalizations and 37 deaths annually.

Even worse, black infants had a significantly higher risk of being hospitalized with and dying from rotavirus disease early in life, compared with white infants.

Worldwide, more than 450,000 children under five years of age still die from rotavirus infection each year. Think about that–nearly one-half million children die from a disease that could be prevented by a simple vaccine, every single year.

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The rotavirus vaccine

In 2006, the rotavirus vaccine was first included in the childhood vaccination schedule. Subsequently, there was a substantial, sustained decline in rotavirus circulation both nationally and regionally, as well as a shift in the epidemiology of this virus. Rotavirus vaccine effectiveness seems to be supported by some solid epidemiological data.

During reporting years 2007 to 2014, as reported in this recent study, data from the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System indicate a 57.8% to 89.9% national decline in disease activity for each postvaccine year compared with prevaccine years, with alternating years of lower and greater positivity rates. Analysis of data for each region revealed similar patterns.

Additional benefits after routine vaccination against rotavirus included delay or absence of rotavirus seasons, with shorter duration (0 – 18 weeks) and lower peak positivity for rotavirus (10.9% – 27.3%).

The report authors estimate that during 2007 to 2011, rotavirus vaccinations averted more than 176,000 hospitalizations, 242,000 emergency department visits, and 1.1 million outpatient visits resulting from diarrhea, with cost savings of $924 million. They anticipate additional reductions in rotavirus disease burden from 2012 to 2014.

The authors concluded that,

The findings in this report are consistent with the high field effectiveness of vaccination observed in post-licensure epidemiologic studies. Taken together, these findings reaffirm the large public health impact of routine rotavirus vaccination in reducing the circulation of rotavirus among U.S. children.

If you’re looking for data that show both a correlation and causality between the rotavirus vaccine and improving health of our children, this is it. It’s statistically powerful. And about as close to irrefutable as one can get in science.

Snarky commentary

For those of you who think something happened in 2006 to cause this dramatic drop in infection rates, please tell me what it was? Better sanitation across the USA? Bring evidence. That we have a sudden cure for rotavirus? As far as I know, no.

Oh wait, I know. GMO foods were secretly launched with anti-rotavirus genes that have saved everyone. I don’t think so.

One more thing–Dr. Paul Offit

One more thing. One of the two types of oral rotavirus vaccines, the pentavalent RotaTeq vaccine, was co-invented by one of the heroes of modern medicine, Paul Offit. His vaccine has literally saved hundreds of children’s lives in the USA and across all countries that routinely vaccinate against rotavirus.

And Merck, the manufacturer of RotaTeq, is working with charities, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and governmental agencies to provide the vaccine a low or no cost across the world.

If you’re going to use one of those lame ad hominem attacks on Dr. Offit because he invented a vaccine and sold it to Merck, then you better tell us how much a child’s life is worth. Because Dr. Offit is responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives being saved over the past 10 years. If you’re in that antivaccination cult, tell me how many lives you’ve saved. I’d like to know.

The rotavirus vaccine saves lives. And we have tons of evidence supporting that.

Visit the evidence-based vaccine search engine. 

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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!