Page last updated at 08:59 GMT, Friday, 5 June 2009 09:59 UK

WHO backs anti-diarrhoea vaccine

Children in Africa
Children in the developing world are most at risk from the virus

The World Health Organization says a vaccine which can prevent a diarrhoea and vomiting virus should be given to all children as a routine vaccination.

Rotavirus causes more than 500,000 diarrhoeal deaths and two million hospitalisations a year among children.

Over 85% of deaths occur in developing countries in Africa and Asia.

International experts welcomed the WHO's recommendations, based on new research, but UK scientists have said the vaccine is too costly.

'Milestone'

The WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) made its recommendations after new data from clinical trials.

The clinical trial, which involved a range or organisations including the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) and drug company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which makes the vaccine plus researchers in South Africa and Malawi, found that rotavirus vaccine significantly reduced severe diarrhoea episodes.

The WHO's Dr Thomas Cherian, said: "This is a tremendous milestone in ensuring that vaccines against the most common cause of lethal diarrhoea reach the children who need them most."

This is a tremendous milestone in ensuring that vaccines against the most common cause of lethal diarrhoea reach the children who need them most
Dr Thomas Cherian, WHO

But the WHO said, because there were other causes of diarrhoea, it was also important to improve water quality, hygiene, and sanitation and ensure oral rehydration solutions and zinc supplements were available.

Dr Tachi Yamada, president of the Global Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said: "This WHO recommendation clears the way for vaccines that will protect children in the developing world from one of the most deadly diseases they face.

"We need to act now to deliver vaccines to children in Africa and Asia, where most rotavirus deaths occur."

Dr Julian Lob-Levyt, chief executive officer of GAVI, said: "This represents another important step in our ability to achieve significant impact on under-five deaths in the world's poorest communities and make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

"We are extremely excited about the potential to offer African and Asian countries funding to introduce rotavirus vaccines."

'Price cut'

There are around 130,000 episodes of gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus each year in the UK.

Around 12,700 children are hospitalised, and four die each year.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the government, said in February that it would only consider recommending the vaccine if its price were significantly reduced.

In February, the JCVI said: "Rotavirus vaccination would reduce the incidence of rotavirus in the population.

"However, the cost-effectiveness analysis showed that, based on current vaccine prices, universal vaccination of young children significantly exceeded the commonly accepted threshold for cost-effective healthcare interventions.

"Introduction of rotavirus vaccines may only become cost-effective if the vaccine price is reduced significantly."

Professor Andrew Hall, chairman of the JCVI, said the committee always kept vaccines under review and considered new information.



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