Rotavirus vaccine could save 500000 children a year



A new, low-priced oral vaccine against rotavirus that could prevent 600 to 1,300 children per day from dying as a result of the diarrheal disease has proven effective in clinical trials, according to new research published earlier this week in the New England Journal of Medicine. In such situations, preventive measures such as vaccinations have an enormous impact.

According to Dr. Micaela Serafini, MSF medical director, as soon as BRV-PV is prequalified by the World Health Organization, it will be integrated in routine immunization programs "to prevent the deaths of thousands of children".

"It's a vaccine that fits much more with what we believe are the needs in Africa", she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The two other now available rotavirus vaccines - RotaTeq and Rotarix - are administered at the starting age of two months but are costly and need to be refrigerated, which makes them virtually inaccessible in poor countries that can't rely on electricity. A vaccine which does not need to be refrigerated would be able to reach children in even the most remote areas.

In the laboratory of Maradi, a team of a dozen people receive about 1,200 specimens (blood, urine/stool, mothers' breast milk.) every week, to be analysed for the trial.

A new vaccine for rotavirus was found to be 66.7% effective in preventing severe gastroenteritis caused by the virus, according to a new study from researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Epicentre, Paris. In addition to being heat-stable, BRV-PV is also cheaper than the other two rotavirus vaccines on the market, with a price of less than $2.50. It is particularly effective against the strains of rotavirus found in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as affordable: at only $2.50 (£2), the vaccine could potentially be rolled out quickly in routine immunisation programmes.

BRV-PV, manufactured by Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd., is already licensed in India.

The trials were conducted by MSF's research and epidemiology branch Epicentre, in collaboration with Niger's ministry of health and other worldwide organisations.

BRV-PV is now awaiting approval from the World Health Organization, after which it could also become available at a subsidised price, making it significantly cheaper than other vaccines on the market.

"The success of this trial shows that research and development into vaccines that are specifically adapted for use in low-income countries yield results", Serafini said.

"The quicker this vaccine is prequalified by the World Health Organization, the sooner it can be used to prevent the deaths of thousands of children in the countries where it is most needed".

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