Saturday, 27 June 2009

Rotavirus vaccine

WHO issued a News Release on 5 June: “Global use of rotavirus vaccines recommended: Vaccines can protect millions of children from diarrhoeal disease”. The News Release says: “WHO has recommended that rotavirus vaccination be included in all national immunization programmes to provide protection against a virus that is responsible for more than 500,000 diarrhoeal deaths and 2 million hospitalizations every year among children. More than 85% of these deaths occur in developing countries in Africa and Asia. This new policy will help ensure access to rotavirus vaccines in the world’s poorest countries.” [The formal recommendation is in the 5 June issue of Weekly Epidemiological Record − see pdf page 20.] All very well and very good, BUT (it’s a big but) what if, say, norovirus takes over from rotavirus? Norovirus already kills ~200,000 children under 5 in developing countries every year (details here) (see also CDC’s Norovirus: Technical Fact Sheet webpage for details of the virus and its effects). A norovirus vaccine? Well, one’s under development in the US (funded by the military) (details here), but it’ll be years before it’s ready for a WHO recommendation like the one for rotavirus. How many kids in developing countries will die from norovirus disease before it’s ready?