Rotavirus infects the intestines and commonly causes severe diarrhea. Children frequently get strains of rotavirus and, after having several different types, often develop immunity to it on their own. Adults can also contract rotavirus, but it is generally a much milder illness than children develop. Rotavirus can also cause vomiting, fever and dehydration.
Since rotavirus can seriously affect young children, and the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 270,000 children are taken to the emergency room each year because of it, the rotavirus vaccine is on the list of suggested childhood vaccinations.
In 1998, RotaShield was put on the market and had a 80 to 100 percent effectiveness rating against rotavirus A. It was pulled from the market in 1999, after studies linked it to an increased risk for intussusception, or bowel obstruction. That experience sparked debates about the safety and efficacy of a rotavirus vaccine.
There are currently two rotavirus vaccines, RotaTeq and Rotarix. Rotarix is produced by Glaxo, and RotaTeq is produced by Merck.
RotaTeq is a live virus vaccine that is formed from five reassortant rotaviruses (virus with gene segments derived from more than one virus). It is effective against rotavirus serotypes G1, G2, G3 and G4. Rotarix is made from a human-attenuated live rotavirus and is effective G1 and some non-G1 rotavirus strains.
Of the estimated 270,000 children taken to the ER each year with rotavirus infections, about 55,000 are hospitalized. Death from rotavirus in developed countries is low, due to medical treatment and sanitation. However, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 600,000 children worldwide die from rotavirus infections.
Both rotavirus vaccines offer potential immunity against multiple common strains, which will prevent infection. When contracted, the symptoms of rotaviruses had shorter durations and were milder in vaccinated children than in unvaccinated children.
Although rotaviruses can be very severe and cause dehydration, the vaccines against rotaviruses aren't without side effects and risks. Typical vaccination side effects include fever, swelling or pain at injection site, nausea and vomiting. Although less common, more serious side effects were also reported. They include Kawasaki syndrome, seizures, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), pneumonia and bowel obstruction (intussusception).