Researchers looking into rotavirus vaccine to protect First Nations babies
Researchers in the Northern Territory are conducting a study to determine if an additional vaccination would better protect First Nations infants from rotavirus.
Rotavirus is a highly infectious gastrointestinal disease which causes vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration, and is the leading cause of paediatric diarrhoea deaths worldwide.
Since the worldwide introduction of oral rotavirus vaccines in 2006 early childhood deaths from the disease have dropped significantly.
In Australia oral rotavirus vaccines are administered through Australia’s National Immunisation Program, which has almost eliminated severe rotavirus disease for most Australian children.
For First Nations children, however, the statistics are not as promising, with rates of hospitalisation for First Nations children in rural and remote northern Australia more than 20 times higher than for non-First Nations children in southern states and territories.
To combat this situation researchers from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) are conducting a research project into whether First Nations children aged between six and 12 months of age would benefit from a third booster dose of rotavirus vaccine.
The work is being led by paediatrician and RACP Fellowship award recipient, Dr Bianca Middleton, who says clinicians are urgently seeking new ways to better protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from diarrhoea illness.
“Right now, the rotavirus vaccine is not fully protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children against severe rotavirus disease, and we still see young children being admitted to hospital with rotavirus infection,” Dr Middleton said.
“Children under the age of two years are most susceptible to developing severe cases of rotavirus, which can lead to dehydration and hospitalisation.”
The trial, which began in 2018, currently has 800 Indigenous children enrolled, with 1000 children expected to have participated by its completion.
Participating children will be monitored until they are three years of age to determine whether an additional booster prevents them from presenting to healthcare centres and hospitals for treatment of severe dehydration and diarrhoea.
The researchers hope their work will be of value at a global level, given that rotavirus is still a deadly disease, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, and will keep vulnerable children out of hospital wards.
“If, as we predict, the booster will give children advanced protection, we expect the extra dose will be recommended for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children as part of Australia’s National Immunisation Program,” Dr Middleton said.
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