Rotavirus Vaccine

Rotavirus is a common infectious agent experienced by most children at some point in their lives. The infection is associated with gastroenteritis in children which can lead to dehydration in babies. Death from rotavirus is very rare in Canada.

Two brands of rotavirus vaccine are currently marketed in Canada. Merck’s RotaTeq, is a genetically engineered vaccine containing five human-cow reassortment strains of rotavirus, and GlaxoSmithKline’s Rotarix, is a genetically engineered vaccine created by isolating human rotavirus strain and uses African Green monkey kidney cells to produce the original viral seed stock from which the vaccine has been made.

Inclusion of rotavirus vaccine(s) in the infant vaccine schedule is being vigorously encouraged by medical groups such as the Canadian Paediatric Society and Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization who recommend that all babies be vaccinated against rotavirus. The vaccine is given orally in two or three doses, starting at 6 weeks of age and ending no later than 8 months It is not recommended for children after age three.

In a recent Canada Communicable Disease Report, we are told that, “the number of seizures reported among vaccine recipients was consistently higher than that reported among placebo recipients in each time interval after immunization.” For more details about the prevalence of the disease, please refer to the CCDR report, January 2008.

Delegates attending a Canadian Immunization Conference in December, 2010 heard that “rotavirus is the most common hospital-acquired infection in children.”

The current vaccine, RotaTeq™ marketed by Merck Frosst Canada is a second generation vaccine, developed after the first version, RotaShield produced and marketed by Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories was pulled from the market because of reports of bowel obstruction developing within weeks of vaccination. The Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) in the U.S revealed persistent reports of vomiting and diarrhea following receipt of rotavirus vaccine and a number of infant deaths.

The Geier & Geier medical research team reported that “From February 3, 2006 through July 31, 2007, a total of 160 (of the 165 reported) intussusception and 11 (of the 16 reported) Kawasaki disease adverse event reports were identified when RotaTeq was administered or co-administered with other vaccines. Time-trend analyses showed that there were significant increases in the total number of intussusception and Kawasaki disease adverse events entered into VAERS [Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System] in comparison to previous years.”

Conclusions: “These observations, coupled with limited rotavirus disease burden, cost-effectiveness, and potential contact viral transmission concerns, raise serious questions regarding the use of RotaTeq in the US. Healthcare providers should diligently report adverse events following RotaTeq vaccination to VAERS….” (‘RotaTeq vaccine adverse events and policy considerations‘ by David A. Geier et al.)

A June 15, 2011 WebMD bulletin reports that a large Latin American study found that while “the risk appears to be small”… and…. “between 1 in 51,000 and 1 in 68,000 vaccinated babies given the rotavirus vaccine Rotarix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, could be expected to develop intussusception, a condition in which part of the intestine slides into another part of the intestine, like parts of a telescope.”

Rarely mentioned is the importance of breastfeeding as an effective preventive of a wide range of gastrointestinal diseases in infants while mitigating the severity of rotavirus disease. Research over many decades has shown that formula fed babies are much more susceptible to severe gastrointestinal illnesses.