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January 27, 2010

Rotavirus Vaccine—A Powerful Tool to Combat Deaths from Diarrhea

The results from two new studies from Mexico and Africa conclude that rotavirus vaccination can significantly reduce deaths from diarrheal disease among young children in developing countries. The studies are published in the January 28 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. In an accompanying editorial, Mathuram Santosham, MD, MPH, a pediatrician and professor of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, writes that the data support the use of rotavirus vaccines in the poorest countries in the world.

“We now have another powerful weapon to add to our armamentarium to combat diarrheal death—rotavirus vaccines,” wrote Santosham. “The vaccines should be introduced immediately in high mortality areas and it should be used as a trigger to energize diarrhea control programs and improve coverage for all the proven interventions for diarrhea.”

Rotavirus infection is the leading cause of severe childhood diarrhea in both developed and developing countries, resulting in over 500,000 child deaths worldwide each year. Almost half of these deaths occur in Africa. Two rotavirus vaccines are currently available—Rotarix® by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and RotaTeq™ manufactured by Merck. Recently, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended that rotavirus vaccines be included in national immunization programs worldwide.

The Africa and Mexico clinical trials examined the efficacy of the Rotarix® vaccine. The trials were funded by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, and the Rotavirus Vaccine Trials Partnership (RVTP), which is a collaboration between PATH, the WHO and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and is funded by the GAVI Alliance.

According to data published in the New England Journal of Medicine, diarrheal disease death rates in Mexico declined more than 65 percent during the rotavirus season among children age two and under following the introduction of vaccine in 2006. Clinical trials in South Africa and Malawi showed that rotavirus vaccine reduced severe rotavirus disease by 61 percent.

“The widespread use of these vaccines has the potential to prevent about 2 million deaths over the next decade,” Santosham’s editorial states.

Public Affairs media contact for JHSPH: Tim Parsons at 410-955-7619 or

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