New vaccine could prevent thousands of childhood deaths

Henrietta Brewer
March 25, 2017

However, they noted, vaccines have been proven to reduce diarrhea-related fatalities by up to 50 percent.

A new vaccine is safe and effective in preventing a deadly diarrheal disease that kills hundreds of children per day, according to a new large trial done in Africa. In fact, the virus can spread before and after children "become sick with diarrhea".

Most causes of diarrhea can be prevented by improving sanitary conditions, such as hygiene and access to clean water, but rotavirus is a viral infection that can only be kept in check though routine vaccination.

An affordable, heat-proof vaccine could mark a turning point in expanding resistance to the diarrhoea-causing rotavirus infection across sub-Saharan Africa, medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres said. In that study, researchers stressed the need to "accelerate the introduction of vaccines" in those areas where rotavirus burden is highest.

It is preventable, but the two existing vaccines must be refrigerated at all times, making them hard to transport and administer in hot countries where electricity is unreliable.

But the current vaccines are hard to transport and administer as they must be refrigerated at all times. Refrigeration is an obstacle in many African countries where rotavirus is most pronounced because electricity there is unreliable.

The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that the new vaccine of rotavirus must be approved by the World Health Organisation. It is affordable, with a price of under US$2.50, which is much cheaper than the lowest price of rotavirus vaccines now available. "We believe that the new vaccine can bring protection against rotavirus to the children who need it most".

The randomised, controlled trial involved 3,508 healthy infants who received three doses of the vaccine or placebo at 6, 10, and 14 weeks of age.

BRV-PV, the researchers explained, can remain stable for up to one year at temperatures of 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) or for six months at 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) without being refrigerated.

Manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, it is also adapted to the strains of rotavirus found in sub-Saharan Africa.

BRV-PV vaccine is awaiting prequalification by the World Health Organization before it can be purchased by the United Nations and government agencies.

Sheila Isanaka, assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and study author, said, "After the successful clinical trial of this new vaccine, we hope that it can be made available as soon as possible to children in Niger and across Africa".

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