Parents and pediatricians can add another vaccine to their laundry list (now at 15) of childhood vaccines. Oh no…another shot, that sounds painful. But wait, the new vaccine, RotaTeq, is an oral suspension given in 3 doses to babies younger than 8 months old.
RotaTeq protects against rotavirus, which causes fever, nausea, vomiting, and watery diarrhea among children younger than three years old. By the age of five nearly every child has had a rotavirus infection. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 600,000 children die worldwide every year because of rotavirus, and in the US rotavirus infection leads to 250,000 emergency room visits.
Rotavirus is extremely contagious, and like most childhood diseases it can be found in daycare centers. The virus spreads easily if child-care workers or parents do not wash their hands frequently, especially after changing diapers. Children can also spread the virus to their parents with a third of parents reporting rotavirus symptoms during a child’s illness.
The new vaccine is not without concern. A previous vaccine, RotaShield, had to be pulled from the market in 1999, when it caused intussusceptions, a life-threatening obstruction of the bowels. RotaTeq has been tried in over 70,000 children and has shown to be 73% effective in reducing any type of diarrhea, and an impressive 100% effective in reducing severe diarrhea.
Recently, my colleague’s three year old child spent two days in the hospital. He had severe diarrhea and vomiting. We acknowledged that he likely had a rotavirus infection and could have been saved the anguish if the vaccine was recommended and given a few months earlier.