Merck's RotaTeq, Glaxo's Rotarix cut hospitalizations by up to 94%

Merck headquarters--Courtesy of Merck

Rotavirus vaccines RotaTeq and Rotarix from Merck ($MRK) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), respectively, have seen uptake grow over the past several years. And with good reason, a new study shows: As the vaccines have become more widespread, the number of children hospitalized for rotavirus-related diarrhea has plunged.

After the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in 2006 recommended that all children receive rotavirus vaccinations, the study authors found that among 400,000 children from 37 states, 78% of those less than one year old had been vaccinated in by 2010--a 14% increase over 2007, Reuters reports.

And over that time--between 2007 and 2011--the yearly rate of rotavirus hospitalizations stayed at least 60% lower than it had been in 2006, results published in the journal Pediatrics show. Researchers estimate that during that span, RotaTeq and Rotarix helped avoid 177,000 hospitalizations, 242,000 visits to the ER, and more than one million outpatient visits for diarrhea amoung children younger than age 5--in other words, $924 million saved for the U.S. healthcare system, they said.

"One of the interesting findings we had was in one of the later years we saw a 94% decrease in hospitalization; rotavirus had practically disappeared in 2010," lead author Dr. Eyal Leshem, of the CDC, told Reuters. "This is attributed to good vaccine effectiveness and high coverage."

The vaccine also ostensibly helped protect unvaccinated children against rotavirus, which killed about 450,000 children worldwide each year before vaccines were introduced. Their rotavirus-related hospitalizations dropped by 50% in 2007, suggesting they benefited from herd immunity.

But the rate of rotavirus immunization is still much lower than rates for other recommended vaccines, Dr. Evan Anderson, who studies rotavirus at Emory University School of Medicine, told the news service. Rotateq, for one, was Merck's No. 4 seller in 2013, behind HPV jab Gardasil, chicken pox vaccine Varivax and shingles shot Zostavax.

"Unfortunately, there is a limited window during infancy for receiving the vaccine so a number of children are not able to receive the vaccine or are not completely vaccinated," Anderson said.

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