The Prolonged Efficacy of a Rotavirus Vaccine


Synopsis: Vaccination against rotavirus gastroenteritis with three doses of live reassortant rotavirus vaccine was protective against severe rotavirus disease into the third year of life in Finnish children.

Source: Joensuu J, et al. Pediatr Infect Dis 1998;17:427-429.

Joensuu and colleagues studied the efficacy of the rhesus-human reassortant rotavirus tetravalent (RRV-TV) vaccine in the third rotavirus epidemic season of a child’s life. Prior trials of RRV-TV vaccine in the United States have concentrated only on the first two rotavirus seasons of the child’s life.

Beginning in 1993 through 1997, 2273 infants were randomized and received three oral doses of vaccine or placebo between two and seven months. All visits by enrolled patients to the clinic or admission to the hospital were recorded. In the third rotavirus epidemic season, five children who received placebo and zero vaccinated children sought medical care for rotavirus gastroenteritis. Therefore, an efficacy of 100% for preventing hospital outpatient clinical visits and hospitalization. However, the numbers were small and the confidence intervals for efficacy wide (95%; CI 17-100).

Comment by Louis M. Bell, MD, FAAP

Human rotaviruses are the most common cause of severe dehydrating diarrhea in children worldwide. Rotavirus infection in children is a major cause mortality

in developing countries, causing an estimated 870,000 deaths each year. In the United States, rotavirus gastroenteritis accounts for 3% of all hospitalizations of children younger than 5 years old (55,000-70,000 hospitalizations per year). Severe disease can be seen in the first three years of life.

Rotaviruses are double stranded RNA viruses with a segmented genome of 11 segments. In the United States, four strains are commonly isolated as defined by the structural glycoprotein (or G protein) and referred to as G1 through G4.

While there are several vaccines in development, the tetravalent rhesus rotavirus-based vaccine (RV-TV) pro-duced by Wyeth-Lederle (RotaShieldÔ) is the first to apply for licensure with the FDA. The FDA has recently given final approval for this vaccine.

The vaccine is called a "reassortant" because it combines rhesus rotavirus genes with a single human

rotavirus gene that expresses the G protein. It is "tetravalent" because the vaccine combines four different reassortant rotaviruses that cover the human serotypes 1, 2, 4 with a rhesus strain similar to human serotype 3 into one live oral vaccine, the major serotypes causing disease in the United States.

The RV-TV vaccine is given at 1, 4, and 6 months of age and is not affected by breast-feeding or concurrent use of oral polio vaccine. Of note, the vaccine is associ-ated with fever (> 38°C) after the first dose in 21% of 2month olds (placebo 6%) and temperatures higher than 39°C in 2% (placebo 1%).

Universal use of the vaccine has the potential to pre-vent approximately 70% of the estimated 500,000-750,000 yearly physician visits and up to 100% of the estimated 55,000 annual hospitalizations for rotavirusgastroenteritis in the United States. Cost is expected to be less than $40 per dose. The cost of three doses of vaccine for a complete series would be about $150 plus the cost of administration. If this should be recommended for universal use by the AAP and CDC, I can foresee a tremendous battle with health insurance companies concerning reimbursement. It will be interesting to see the recommendations of the Red Book Committee in the coming year, now that this vaccine has been approved by the FDA.