Every Child Should Be Vaccinated Against Diarrheal Disease, W.H.O. Says By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. Published: June 8, 2009
The World Health Organization recommended last week that the vaccine against rotavirus, a diarrheal disease that kills 500,000 children a year, be given to every child in the world.
Health Guide: Diarrhea | Rotavirus Antigen Test
More than 85 percent of those deaths are of poor children in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the W.H.O. endorsement allows donor money to be used for the vaccine.
Rotavirus drops are already routine for babies in the United States. Without them, virtually all children are infected by age 3; most cases are mild, but some unpredictably turn life-threatening.
In countries with ambulances and hospitals, even unimmunized children with severe viral diarrhea can usually be saved with intravenous fluids. In poor countries, they often die.
The recommendation came after trials in South Africa and Malawi showing that a GlaxoSmithKline vaccine worked even in areas with poor sanitation, competing viruses, high infant death rates and mothers with AIDS. The results of trials on a rival Merck vaccine in Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Mali and Vietnam are expected in the fall.
The recommendation “clears the way for vaccines that will protect children in the developing world from one of the most deadly diseases they face,” said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of global health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which paid for much of the research.
The next steps will not be cheap, Mr. Gates said recently. Even in poor countries, the vaccine costs about $20 and the vials must be refrigerated — no easy task in places lacking electricity.