Rotavirus vaccination and herd immunity: an evidence-based review
Lorna M Seybolt, Rodolfo E Bégué
Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, LA, USA
Abstract: Until recently, rotavirus was the most common cause of diarrhea in infants and young children with over 100 million cases and 400,000 deaths every year worldwide. Yet, its epidemiology is changing rapidly with the introduction of two rotavirus vaccines in the mid 2000s. Both vaccines were shown to be highly efficacious in prelicensure studies to reduce severe rotavirus disease; the efficacy being more pronounced in high- and middle-income countries than in low-income countries. Herd immunity – the indirect protection of unimmunized individuals as a result of others being immunized – was not expected to be a benefit of rotavirus vaccination programs since the vaccines were thought to reduce severe disease but not to decrease virus transmission significantly. Postlicensure studies, however, have suggested that this assumption may need reassessment. Studies in a variety of settings have shown evidence of greater than expected declines in rotavirus disease. While these studies were not designed specifically to detect herd immunity – and few failed to detect this phenomenon – the consistency of the evidence is compelling. These studies are reviewed and described here. While further work is needed, clarifying the presence of herd immunity is not just an academic exercise but an important issue for rotavirus control, especially in lower income countries where the incidence of the disease is highest and the direct protection of the vaccines is lower.
Keywords: rotavirus, vaccine, herd immunity, efficacy
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