Rotavirus vaccine helps protect children from disease

In a recent blog post, Quest Diagnostics announced that a new study found that widespread vaccination for rotavirus has significantly minimized the incidence of the gastrointestinal disease in children in the United States – including those who were never vaccinated.

Rotavirus is a fairly common infection in infants and children. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), before the development of the rotavirus vaccine, most children had at least one bout with rotavirus by age 5.[i] While rotavirus may cause minor disease in some children, it can be potentially life threatening for others. According to the World Health Organization, 215,000 children under five died of the disease in 2013, the most recent year for which estimates are available.[ii] In the United States, prior to the availability of efficacious vaccines, rotavirus infections caused approximately 410,000 physician visits, 205,000 to 270,000 emergency department visits, and 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations annually.

By 2006, the first vaccine for rotavirus was approved in the United States, with the second approved two years later.

A Quest Diagnostics Health Trends™ study published in the Pediatrics evaluated 276,949 de-identified test results from children ages infant through 9 years over an 11-year period to determine trends in laboratory rotavirus detection and the impact of the rotavirus vaccine on rotavirus detection. In the study, two patients groups were evaluated for rotavirus vaccine – likely vaccinated and unlikely vaccinated.

From this analysis, the Quest Diagnostics researchers determined that:

  1. The rotavirus vaccine is effective. The rate of positivity (test results positive for rotavirus antigens, an indicator of exposure to the virus) declined 73 percent during the 8 years after the rotavirus vaccine was introduced.
  2. The rotavirus vaccine has contributed to "herd immunity," with rates of rotavirus declining in unvaccinated children as well as vaccinated ones.
  3. The length of time during which rotavirus, a largely seasonal disease, is active during the year is likely several weeks longer than CDC estimates.
  4. The efficacy of the rotavirus vaccination may wane over time.

"This study supports the need for rotavirus vaccinations and the importance of vigilant monitoring for a longer season. It also suggests there may be value in future studies regarding revaccination," said co-author Harvey W. Kaufman, MD, senior medical director, medical informatics, Quest Diagnostics.

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