While vaccines are essential in children remaining healthy, many of them are too expensive, especially in Africa. However, scientists have found one vaccine that is affordable and can save thousands of children.
The vaccine — called BRV-PV — helps prevent rotavirus, a deadly diarrheal disease. Currently, the virus kills hundreds of children per day in Africa and approximately 450,000 children per year. Furthermore, the virus is responsible for one-third of worldwide deaths among children who are younger than 5.
According to the latest study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the latest vaccine is 66.7 percent effective. It is a heat-stable medicine that prevents severe gastroenteritis. Additionally, scientists created BRV-PV to specifically prevent the rotavirus strains native to sub-Saharan Africa. This region suffers from the most child rotavirus deaths.
Micaela Serafini, Doctors Without Borders’ medical director, said the new vaccine is a game-changer.
“We believe that the new vaccine can bring protection against rotavirus to the children who need it most,” Serafini explained.
The vaccine’s significance stems from the severity of rotavirus itself. While people can prevent other diarrheal causes through increased hygiene and sanitation, those measures do not apply to this virus. The only way to prevent rotavirus is through vaccination.
There are two other vaccines available for this particular virus. However, both are expensive and must remain refrigerated, making obtaining them nearly impossible for African regions. BRV-PV is the first rotavirus vaccine that people do not have to keep refrigerated. Additionally, it costs less than $2.50, making it an affordable means to healthcare.
Studying the vaccine
Doctors Without Borders and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Epicentre in Paris conducted the study in Niger. India approved of their results and licensed the vaccine in their country. However, the World Health Organization must approve the vaccine before government agencies can use it.
Study researchers believe that further approval will not be an issue. They also believe this vaccine is only the beginning of vaccines solely created for impoverished areas around the world.
“The success of this trial shows that research and development into vaccines that are specifically adapted for use in low-income countries yield results,” Serafini said. “The quicker this vaccine is prequalified by the WHO, the sooner it can be used to prevent the deaths of thousands of children in the countries where it is needed most.”
In the study, researchers studied more than 3,500 healthy infants. They provided each infant three doses of either the new vaccine or a placebo — each dose at ages 6, 10 and 14 weeks. Each child used in the study is receiving free medical care for two years at local health centers. Researchers reported no safety concerns with the vaccine and found that infants who received the vaccine suffered less hospitalizations than infants given the placebo.
While researchers are confident in the vaccine’s abilities, they urge more studies to ensure the vaccine’s large-scale safety.