A Cheaper Heat-Stable Vaccine Could Prevent Child Deaths in Africa

by Jared Lewis March 26, 2017, 0:07
A Cheaper Heat-Stable Vaccine Could Prevent Child Deaths in Africa

Rotavirus is responsible for about 37% of deaths from diarrhea among children younger than 5 years of age each year, or about 450,000 children, with a disproportionate effect in sub-Saharan Africa.

Most causes of diarrhea can be prevented by improving sanitary conditions, such as hygiene and access to clean water, but rotavirus is a viral infection that can only be kept in check though routine vaccination. According to the World Health Organization, more than 500,000 children die each year from dehydration and complications of rotavirus, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, there are two rotavirus vaccines, but they are expensive and need to be refrigerated, making them hard to distribute in resource-poor countries where electricity and refrigeration are often unreliable.

Commenting on he new developments, Dr. Paul A. Offit, an infectious disease specialist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and one of the inventors of another rotavirus vaccine said, "This is great news".

This makes BRV-PV a "game changer", Michaela Serafini, medical director at NGO Médicins Sans Frontières, said.

The fact that the vaccine is heat-stable for up to two years, unlike its similarly effective counterparts, makes it much easier for health care providers to use in areas lacking "the electricity, the physical infrastructure, such as roads and anything that we would take for granted", Doctors Without Borders researcher Rebecca Grais told Forbes.

But the current vaccines are hard to transport and administer as they must be refrigerated at all times.

Rotavirus infection is the number one cause of severe diarrhea and kills an estimated 1,300 children each day primarily in sub-Saharan Africa.

Initially, the BRV-PV is expected to cost $6 dollars for the three shots, a price that is expected to drop as the vaccine gains traction.

"This trial brings a vaccine which is adapted to African settings to those who need it most", said Sheila Isanaka, assistant professor of nutrition at Harvard University and co-author of the study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The result of the trials according to MSF, demonstrated no safety concerns and as a result the vaccine could help to fill the current supply gaps of the existing rotavirus vaccines. BRV-PV is the first of its kind that does not require refrigeration.

The Niger trial was a randomized control study conducted on nearly 4,000 children under the age of two, who were vaccinated in three doses, at the age of six, 10 and 14 weeks.

In order for the vaccine to be marketed and widely distributed, it needs to be approved by United Nations' health agency World Health Organization (WHO).

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