Rotavirus Vaccine Linked To Fewer Childhood Hospitalizations

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Preliminary data from a New York State Health Department study shows a significant reduction in childhood hospitalizations for the most common cause of diarrhea since an oral rotavirus vaccine for infants was introduced in 2006.

"This is a tremendous public health success story," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "I urge all parents to consult with their pediatric health care providers about getting the rotavirus vaccine for their infants."

Preliminary data presented today at a meeting of the New York State Public Health Council in Albany showed a 61 percent reduction for childhood diarrhea hospitalizations and an 85 percent reduction in childhood rotavirus hospitalizations from January through June 2008 compared with hospitalizations associated with these causes in 2003-2005.

Rotavirus infection is the most common cause of diarrhea among infants and young children. While it causes few deaths, it is responsible for an estimated 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. each year among children less than 5 years of age.

An oral rotavirus vaccine was introduced in 2006. During the study period to date, an estimated 50 percent of eligible infants in New York State received the vaccine.

"This is a dramatic demonstration of how a vaccine can make a huge difference in health outcomes," said Dale L. Morse, M.D., Director of the State Health Department's Office of Science and Chair of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). "Considering that this drop in hospitalizations was achieved with only about a 50 percent immunization rate, we expect the results will only get better with a higher rate of immunization."


Dr. Morse presented the preliminary results of the study at a recent ACIP meeting at the CDC in Atlanta, Ga.

"We want to continue studying the data for another year, but there is no other explanation for this dramatic drop in hospitalizations," said Dr. Morse.

The rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq, licensed in 2006, is recommended for infants, with a total of three doses administered orally at ages two months, four months and six months.

Another oral rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix, licensed earlier this year, calls for a two-dose series administered at two months and four months.

The reduction in hospitalizations recorded during the study period is not only linked to a reduction in preventable serious illness associated with rotavirus but also translates into health care savings. Total charges for diarrhea and rotavirus-associated childhood hospitalizations in New York State decreased by $34 million in 2008 compared to 2005.

'This is one more example of how a relatively inexpensive investment in prevention results not only in better health but also in huge savings in health care spending," said Guthrie S. Birkhead, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Public Health.

Rotavirus activity in the United States follows a distinct winter-spring seasonal pattern. In winter months, approximately 50 percent of hospitalizations and emergency room visits and 30 percent of outpatient visits for acute gastroenteritis among children less than three years of age are caused by rotavirus. When compared with the 15 previous seasons spanning 1991 through 2006, rotavirus activity began two to four months later in the 2008 season, and at the height of the season the number of cases was 50 percent lower than in previous years.