By Randall Fisher, MD
New vaccine approved
The U.S. FDA has approved a new vaccine to protect against rotavirus, a viral infection that can cause severe diarrhea, vomiting, fever and dehydration in infants and young children. Each year in the U.S., rotavirus is responsible for more than 400,000 doctor visits, more than 200,000 emergency room visits, up to 70,000 hospitalizations and as many as 60 deaths in children younger than 5 years of age. Local infectious disease specialist David Matson of the CHKD professional staff led the U.S. segment of the international study that tested the rotavirus vaccine for safety and effectiveness.
The oral vaccine is given in three doses at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. Studies indicate the vaccine prevents about 74 percent of all rotavirus cases and about 98 percent of the most severe cases, including 96 percent of rotavirus cases requiring hospitalization.
No autism connection
As reports of autism have increased, so have worries that vaccines – in particular the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal – could play a role in the development of the debilitating developmental disorder.
In the most comprehensive study of the topic to date, experts from the Institute of Medicine, a private, non-profit organization that provides independent advice to the government, spent five years reviewing data involving more than half a million children in the U.S., Great Britain and Denmark. In a report released last spring, they concluded that neither the MMR vaccine nor thimerosal is associated with autism.
The report has been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association, among others. It recommends that health professionals continue to work to make vaccines as safe as possible, and that future funding for autism research be channeled to other potential causes.
Why do children need vaccinations when the diseases they prevent are seemingly rare? Children still need immunizations because they are successful at preventing deadly diseases and the organisms that cause diseases are still present in the U.S. and around the world. Just look at nations with limited vaccine availability and you’ll find preventable diseases are sill rampant. So we can’t afford to let down our guard.
Influenza vaccine recommended for more children
The CDC has expanded its recommendations about who should get flu vaccines to include children ages 2 to 5. In the past, experts recommended flu shots for children ages 6 to 23 months and for older children with chronic illnesses such as asthma.
Increasing the number of children who are immunized will not only protect more children, it also will help prevent cases of the flu from spreading to others in the community. Studies show that flu often enters households through preschoolers, who are often the first members of the community to catch the virus.
The best time to get flu shots is October and November.
Dr. Fisher is a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Children’s Specialty Group PLLC at CHKD