Rotavirus Vaccine
Rotavirus infection remains the leading cause of severe diarrhea, which is the second leading cause of death in infants and children worldwide. This virus runs rampant in developing countries, killing about 1,300 children every day. However, a new rotavirus vaccine from the Serum Institute of India may slow down the march of rotavirus across the world.

An extremely contagious virus, Rotavirus spreads easily through contact with an infected individual’s feces or by consuming contaminated food and liquid. It often spreads between young children when they are in close quarters. The virus causes gastroenteritis or inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It then leads to severe watery diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes fever.

Young children in developing countries are particularly at risk due to severe dehydration. In areas with access to clean water and medical care, rotavirus deaths are nearly nonexistent. Unfortunately, improvements in hygiene and sanitation are not enough to prevent rotavirus transmission. Preventative measures, like vaccines, are critical to protecting the lives of those in regions without medical care.

There are currently two rotavirus vaccines in use, Rotateq and Rotarix. The new vaccine, dubbed BRV-PV, demonstrated higher efficacy than both Rotateq and Rotarix in Phase 3 testing. BRV-PV, which will be marketed as Rotasiil, had an efficacy of nearly 67% for preventing severe gastroenteritis. Rotarix and Rotateq had efficacies of 61 percent and 39%, respectively.

In addition to the increased efficacy, BRV-PV offers another critical benefit over the other options: stability at high temperatures. Providing rotavirus vaccine access to remote or developing areas continues to be difficult as Rotarix and Rotateq need to be refrigerated to temperatures between 36°F and 46°F. However, BRV-PV will now allow for ease of storage and transportation. This could prove to be the difference-maker for preventing thousands of rotavirus-related deaths in communities with limited health care.

BRV-PV  is already licensed for use in India and is currently under review for WHO qualification. Once it is approved by the WHO, BRV-PV can be bought by the United Nations (UN) and other government agencies for distribution to places desperately lacking access to rotavirus vaccines.

While there have been several rotavirus vaccines available for purchase, the requirements for their storage and transportation made them generally unavailable for low-resource areas. BRV-PV could prove to be an exciting public health victory by supplying affordable rotavirus vaccines to people who need it the most, saving thousands of lives.

Akhil Reddy
Photo: Flickr