Reasons to Love the Rotavirus Vaccine

Happy Mother’s Day! Today I’m celebrating the rotavirus vaccine. It has given such an immense gift to thousands of mothers in the developing world. Not to say that it isn’t great that so many mothers in the developed world have also been spared seeing their babies struggle through vomiting and diarrhea. Luckily the disease is rarely deadly for those of us blessed with access to plenty of clean food and water, and quality medical care.

Reasons to love the roativirus vaccine


Rotavirus is the number one culprit among the common causes for diarrhea. Nearly every child will suffer through the disease at least once before the age of five, and while mortalities from the infection are rare in the developed world, in developing countries hundreds of thousands of children die because of rotavirus every year.

This graph above comes from the 2011 publication Childhoof Diarrhea Deaths after Rotavirus Vaccination in Mexico in the New England Journal of Medicine, where they look at the results of rotavirus vaccine introduction in 2007. The vaccine was found to have reduced deaths from rotavirus by more than half. They report:

The sustained reduction in the rate of death from diarrhea for three seasons after the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine, with reductions progressively extending to other age groups as they become age-eligible for vaccination, provides evidence that some mortality reduction is likely attributable to vaccination. The cumulative reduction of some 2640 childhood deaths since the vaccination program was initiated in Mexico highlights the lifesaving promise of rotavirus vaccines and supports the WHO recommendation for immunization of all children worldwide against rotavirus.

Similarily, a 2015 study reports on the findings in Brazil: The effectiveness of a rotavirus vaccine in preventing hospitalizations and deaths presumably due to acute infectious diarrhea in Brazilian children: a quasi-experimental study. They analysed three different populations of children (all aged 0-4), and found that the mortality due to diarrhea per 100,000 children in the groups fell from 2 to 1.3, from 5.5 to 2.5, and from 15 to 8, after the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine in 2006. They conclude:

A monovalent rotavirus vaccine was demonstrated to be effective in preventing the hospitalizations and deaths of children that were presumably due to acute infectious diarrhea, without increasing the risk of intestinal intussusception.

The graph of the mortality rates in Mexico is also part of the excellent data presentation over at Our World in Data, where you can also data on many other vaccine preventable diseases. On rotavirus they write:

The rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea and causes 527,000 childhood deaths annually (2011). Many more become sick and are hospitalized.1 Mexico introduced the rotavirus vaccination between 2006 and 2007, and the following graph shows how successful the countrywide vaccination was. According to the study, diarrhea mortality for children under the age of 5 fell by 56% over three years! The graph shows the seasonal pattern of the disease and how the lifesaving effect of the vaccine affected different age groups.

This infographic by Dawn at Dawn’s Brain does a great job at presenting the key facts on rotavirus. For many more great infographics like this on preventable diseases, make sure to check out her blog.

rotavirus dawns brain

Check out this and many other great infographics at Dawn’s Brain

For equally compelling graphical representations of other vaccine preventable disease notifications before and after vaccine introductions, see Visual Vaccines. If you are interested in reading more vaccine topics, make sure to also check out my other infographics and articles on Vaccines and health.

If you would like to ask a question or have a discussion in the comments below, you are very welcome, but please take note of my Commenting policy. In a nutshell:

  1. Be respectful.
  2. Back up your claims with evidence


About Thoughtscapism

Cell Biologist, science communicator, an agricultural and biodiversity analyst, and a fiction writer.
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1 Response to Reasons to Love the Rotavirus Vaccine

  1. If you wonder why your comment has not been published, this comment is for you. I understand that you feel frustrated. This blog is the place where I try to gather useful, accurate information about the world, and highlight misconceptions. Whenever I have the time, I am also happy to discuss with people who bring up misconceptions, and we can look at the claims together. This page is for discussion, not for ‘getting back’ at something by pasting a link that supposedly says one thing or another. Careful evaluation and not ignoring proper context is the key.

    Making strong claims here requires robust evidence. Simply making a claim, and linking a piece which does not support that claim, is not a well backed-up argument.

    Let me elaborate on my commenting policy, found in the link in the end of the piece, or again here:

    “To be clear: no scientific evidence will be dismissed out of hand on this blog. I aim to understand, and am grateful for pointers to interesting research. If you’d like to make an argument in favour of a view different from mine, and do so based on speculation or opinion alone, I will try to allow that, too, at least to some degree (granted you are respectful) for the sake of the discussion. If, however, you make specific and strong claims, you will need to back those claims up with scientific evidence. Comments about conspiracies, of all of mainstream science being wrong etc, are big claims, and such claims require particularly convincing evidence before they make for a relevant discussion.

    An example: every health authority, all scientists, all medical seats of education, every academic organisation being wrong is not a rational starting point for a discussion. A starting point is: how can we know something? I’ve written more about this over at: Why science? The starting point is evidence. A starting point is: ‘this study says one thing, another says another thing – how could we best understand the evidence?’ or ‘this source claims this, and this source that – how do we know who is closer to the truth’?”

    For someone to make the case against rotavirus vaccine, then they should clearly present the majority conclusions from evidence-based material on the rates of adverse reactions from the vaccines, and compare that to the effects of the illness, and illness prevention. Please include the gist of the argument in your comment – just linking to a source (especially a non-scientific source, like in other comments) does not constitute a well made case for an argument. If there is something important for the readers of this blog to know, please provide that context. Ignoring everything written in the post(s) above, and simply posting a link to one page or another does not constitute a valuable argument.

    I have no problem including links, like the one to this FDA page, if it is presented with proper context:

    It was linked in one comment which includes strong claims, however it in fact outlines that rates of adverse events like fever, fussiness, and vomiting after receiving the vaccine, are pretty near identical for placebo and vaccine recipients, and it well documents the benefits of rotavirus vaccine.

    It shows that among almost 4000 study participants, the 2600 who received the vaccine, had only 26 cases of rotavirus, only five out them severe – to get to the same proportion as the half as large control group, that would mean about 13 cases all in all, 2-3 of them severe. Meanwhile the smaller 1300 person control group had 104 cases of rotavirus, *60* of them severe, 12 so much so, that they required hospitalisation.

    In this 2600 person group, rotavirus already prevented about 90 % of the cases of rotavirus (200 or so in this rate of incidence), including more than 97 % of the severe cases, and *all* the hospitalisations.

    Trying to take careful observations about possible increases of risk for very very rare incidents like Kawasaki’s disease (risk rate of a 3-4 cases per 10 000 children, and where majority of the children recover from without long-term problems), when we compare that to certain rates of…

    “In the prevaccine era an estimated 3 million rotavirus infections occurred every year in the United States and 95% of children experienced at least one rotavirus infection by age 5 years. Rotavirus infection was responsible for more than 400,000 physician visits, more than 200,000 emergency department (ED) visits, 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations, and 20 to 60 deaths each year in children younger than 5 years. ”

    … the risks of not vaccinating are simply much much greater. There is no thing in life that is zero-risk. Scientists and health professionals take risk very seriously. We always have to choose the one among the alternatives that carries _least_ risk. Not intervening carries risk too, and in this case, a much greater one.

    The WHO:

    “WHO recommends the inclusion of rotavirus vaccine in all country immunization programs. Their use has resulted in reductions of infant diarrheal deaths, hospitalizations and incidence of rotavirus gastroenteritis.1, 2 Thus even in countries where mortality rates for rotavirus gastroenteritis are low, there is a substantial health benefit associated with vaccination. 3, 4

    An increased risk of intussusception has been found in multiple countries for both vaccines following the first and second dose of the vaccine series (2 doses with Rotarix and 3 doses with RotaTeq), especially within the first 7 days after vaccination. However, the benefits of prevention of rotavirus gastroenteritis have continued to be judged to outweigh risks associated with vaccination, including the risk of intussusception.”

    And the Australian Health authorities:

    “The overall benefits of preventing gastroenteritis from rotavirus are much greater than the small risk of intussusception.

    Before rotavirus vaccine became available in Australia, almost every child was infected by rotavirus by the age of 5 years. About 10,000 young children were hospitalised with rotavirus gastroenteritis each year and up to one young child a year died from complications. Since rotavirus vaccination started in 2007 more than 7,000 hospital admissions for rotavirus are prevented each year. Those who do go to see a doctor are less ill. This compares with more than 200 babies being hospitalised for intussusception each year, of which only about an extra 14 may be related to having received rotavirus vaccine.

    Based on the established benefits of rotavirus vaccination and the rare occurrence of IS, both the World Health Organization (WHO), the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) have recommended the continued use of rotavirus vaccine for infants under the NIP.”

    Thanks for your interest in my blog. I hope you have a great day.
    Best Regards,


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