June 5, 2009

The World Health Organization recommended on Friday that oral rotavirus vaccines be included in all national immunization programs to avert half a million diarrhoeal deaths and 2 million hospitalizations a year.


Children in Europe and the Americas have had access to the rotavirus vaccine for three years but it had previously not been tested in and approved for low-income settings where the dehydrating disease is most lethal.

The U.N. agency’s new global guidance is expected to boost demand for Merck’s RotaTeq, GlaxoSmithKline‘s Rotarix vaccines in Africa and Asia, and from health charities.

"This WHO recommendation clears the way for vaccines that will protect children in the developing world from one of the most deadly diseases they face," said Tachi Yamada of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Rotavirus is a leading cause of severe gastroenteritis, including vomiting and diarrhea, in infants and young children. The contagious infection kills an estimated 1,600 children under the age of 5 every day, mostly in Africa and Asia.

The first vaccine developed to fight rotavirus, sold by Wyeth, was pulled from the market in 1999 after it was linked to a rare, life-threatening type of bowel obstruction known as intussusception.

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