UPDATED: Academics' oral stomach flu vax could save lives

Kids get stomach flu, often caused by rotavirus infections, and generally shake it off pretty quickly. It's grim, but not life-threatening for most. However, around half a million children worldwide die of rotavirus infections each year. A new oral vaccine from Australia could help to cut this, in the developing as well as the developed world.

The vaccine, developed at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (Australia) and made by Indonesian vaccine manufacturer BioFarma, is based on the naturally-weakened rotavirus RV3 strain, found in newborns. Babies infected with this show no symptoms and are protected against future bouts of rotavirus infection. The development is as a collaboration between academic institutions, with plans to partner with manufacturers in developing countries to keep the costs low.

In the current trial, under way at a number of places including the University of Otago in New Zealand, newborn babies and infants will get the vaccine or a placebo (dummy vaccine) so that researchers can see how much of an immune response there is and how long it lasts. When it was tested in Australia in 2011 in adults, children and infants, the vaccine was tolerated well and there were early signs of it triggering an immune response.

Merck's ($MRK) RotaTeq vaccine cut the severity of the rotavirus season by half after two years. The RotaTeq vaccine is widely used but is only approved for use from six weeks--the advantage of the experimental vaccine is that it could be used in newborns, protecting them from infection from the get go.

"This is important because we know that infection can occur very early in developing countries and means that the vaccine has the potential to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating at birth while babies are still in a health care setting," according to University of Otago researcher Dr. Pam Jackson from the Department of Women's and Children's Health.

- read the press release

EDITOR'S NOTE: The original piece mistakenly referred to RotaTeq as a shot--this has now been corrected.