Since vaccinating against rotavirus became routine in the U.S., hospitalizations… (Sean Gallup / Getty Images )
The rotavirus vaccine has worked -- keeping a significant number of children out of the hospital for treatment of diarrhea, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
U.S. health officials began recommending routine vaccination of children against the virus -- which causes watery diarrhea and can lead to dehydration -- in February 2006. Before the vaccine became routine, rotavirus diarrhea caused about 400,000 physician visits; 200,000 emergency department visits; 55,000 hospitalizations and 20 to 60 deaths each year among children under 5 in the United States.
To assess how instituting the vaccination program affected those numbers, the researchers pulled data from a nationwide database of insurance claims. Uninsured and Medicaid-covered children were not included in the analysis.
The researchers reported that after the vaccine was introduced, annual rates of diarrhea-associated hospitalization among children under 5 were 33% lower in 2007-2008 and 25% lower in 2008-2009 than they had been from 2001-2006. Rates of hospitalization attributed directly to rotavirus infection fell even more sharply -- 75% in 2007-2008 and 60% in 2008-2009. Reductions were greater during months when rotavirus is prevalent (January to June.)
The team also analyzed expenses associated with the vaccine program, estimating that 64,855 hospitalizations of children for diarrhea were avoided during the two years, at a savings of $278 million.
The authors called for further research to characterize direct and indirect benefits of ongoing rotavirus vaccination.
The rotavirus vaccine is administered orally in three doses. The CDC recommends that children receive the vaccine at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
According to the CDC, rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in young children around the world and causes death in more than 500,000 children every year.
Read more from the CDC about rotavirus here.