Diarrhoea is one of the world’s leading causes of child illness and death, and rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea.
Each year, rotavirus diarrhoea kills about 200,000 children in countries around the world and hospitalises hundreds of thousands more, despite the fact that safe, effective vaccines exist that can protect children from this disease.
Rotavirus is highly contagious, and every child is at risk. Infants and children under the age of 2 years face the greatest risk of infection. Rotavirus causes gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It primarily infects the small intestine, destroying the surface tissue and preventing the absorption of nutrients, causing diarrhoea.
The ROTA Council strongly endorses the recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) that all countries introduce rotavirus vaccines. In addition, to accelerate the introduction of lifesaving, health-improving rotavirus vaccines, the ROTA Council recommends that key stakeholders undertake actions in the following areas.
Gavi-eligible countries that have not yet introduced rotavirus vaccines into their childhood immunization schedules should strongly consider applying to Gavi (Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization) for new vaccine support for rotavirus vaccine as soon as possible.
Governments and funding agencies should continue to support the research and development of new, low-cost rotavirus vaccines using public, social business and public-private models. Emerging market manufacturers have demonstrated the ability to develop and license low-cost rotavirus vaccines (Rotavin and ROTAVAC®) with technology transfer and public funding support.
Global health entities (e.g. UNICEF, WHO, Gavi) and NGOs influential in vaccine programs (e.g., Médecins Sans Frontières and Save the Children) should expedite initiatives to ensure prices paid for rotavirus vaccines reflect true manufacturing costs, provide reasonable returns on manufacturers’ investment and take into account an individual country’s ability to pay. Additional mechanisms may be required to provide innovative funding options for low-middle income, non-Gavi eligible countries. To enable countries of all income groups to include rotavirus vaccines in their national immunization programs, transparent and flexible pricing mechanisms are required.
National governments, global health entities, funding agencies, manufacturers and other stakeholders should facilitate the development of new, live oral vaccines that address barriers to global supply for Gavi and low- and middle-income countries; implementation challenges (cold chain, volume of administration and storage, delivery systems, safety concerns) and cultural sensitivity; and that are safe, efficacious and available at low cost.
In conjunction with the introduction of rotavirus vaccine, countries should work with WHO, UNICEF and other partners to plan and implement a comprehensive set of interventions to reduce illnesses and deaths from diarrheal disease, consistent with the integrated global action Plan for the prevention and control of Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD).
Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea, and every child is vulnerable. Vaccines are safe, effective and the most powerful tool to protect children from rotavirus. In countries where they are in use, vaccines are already saving the lives and improving the health of countless numbers of children.
Despite the WHO recommendation that rotavirus vaccines be introduced into every country’s national immunization program, 94 million infants still do not have access to this critical intervention. These countries should prioritize the vaccines now—millions of illnesses and tens of thousands of deaths can be prevented through rotavirus vaccination.