Experts rubbish DA claim that rotavirus vaccine is failing

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The SA National Institute for Communicable Diseases says data shows the rotavirus vaccine given to babies to prevent severe diarrhoea and death infants does work‚ contrary to a Democratic Alliance claim that there is a problem with the vaccine's effectiveness.

The Times reports that the Gauteng DA spokesperson on health‚ Jack Bloom‚ had suggested that there was currently a problem with the rotavirus vaccines in Gauteng. The vaccine is given to infants to protects against multiple strains of the rotavirusm which can cause severe diarrhoea and death.

Bloom claimed there were increased cases in hospitals of babies with severe gastroenteritis who had been given the vaccine. He suggested this must mean there was a problem with the vaccine's effectiveness or the way vaccines were being transported. "The companies producing the vaccines need to explain why they have not worked and ensure that babies are properly immunised against this highly contagious virus‚" Bloom said.

But, the report says, experts rubbished these claims. Director of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases Shabir Madhi‚ whose research led to the vaccine being included in South Africa's government programme‚ called Bloom's press release "poorly informed". He said the rotavirus vaccine did not protect against every case of rotavirus‚ there were other causes of diarrhoea in infants and there were often seasonal spikes or sudden increases in rotavirus or diarrhoea.

"Rotavirus while a very important cause of infantile diarrhoea‚ is not the only cause of diarrhoea in infants‚" Lucille Blumberg‚ deputy director of institute is quoted in the report as saying.

In fact‚ Madhi said "the rotavirus vaccine programme has been so effective that other viruses such as norovirus and bacteria are now proportionately more common causes of diarrhoea compared to before we introduced rotavirus vaccine into the immunisation programme". The other reason blaming "ineffective" vaccines for an increase in cases is wrong is that it is normal to see were seasonal spikes in diarrhoea. "It is not uncommon to get a spike in diarrhoea cases at this time of the year‚ including some rotavirus cases‚ since the virus circulation comes as epidemics. The magnitude of the epidemics are‚ however‚ much lower then before we introduced rotavirus vaccine into the public immunisation programme‚" Madhi said in the report.

The vaccine does not protect against every rotavirus case either. "The rotavirus vaccine is only 70-75% effective in South Africa‚ which is higher than in many other low-income countries‚ but it has a had a tremendous impact on diarrhoeal hospitalisation in South Africa -including a 40-50% reduction in all-cause diarrhoea hospitalisation‚" Madhi is quoted in the report as saying.

According to the report, Blumberg said South Africa had a long-standing monitoring programme for rotavirus‚ with sites in a number of hospitals‚ with institute having played a key role in this for some years. "The programme monitors for the different strains and over the past few years there is good evidence to support the protective effect of the vaccine for the strains that have circulated and the efficacy of the vaccine‚" Blumberg said.

The Times report

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