Victorian-developed vaccine to save thousands of child deaths per year

Microscopic close up of Rotavirus

Victorian-based scientists have discovered a new vaccine that protects babies from a potentially deadly rotavirus infection.

Rotavirus is often responsible for gastroenteritis in babies and young children. It is spread by person to person contact and its symptoms include fever, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea. The World Health Organisation predicts the virus causes up to 233,000 child deaths per year.

The discovery of a new oral human neonatal rotavirus vaccine was made by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), and announced today after conducting a trial in more than 1500 babies in Indonesia.

While this isn’t the first effective vaccine for rotavirus, more than 90 million infants lack access to the vaccine, partly due to costs and partly due to it being less effective in countries like Indonesia.

The existing vaccine may not be taken until babies are six weeks old. Researchers suggest that because the new oral vaccine is cheaper and is able to be taken at birth, it will help to prevent more than 5000 child deaths per year, mainly in developing countries.

The study’s lead researcher Professor Julie Bines said rotavirus was a significant global public health problem.

“This disease doesn’t discriminate – without vaccination it infects children worldwide under the age of five – irrespective of what environment you live in, even in Australia,” Professor Bines said.

Victoria’s lead scientist, Dr Amanda Caples, who worked on some of the earlier phases of the research said the discovery built on Victoria’s reputation for effective infectious disease research.

“This study enhances the reputation of Victoria’s infectious disease researchers in tackling global child health problems. It is a major milestone in the development of a safe and effective Rotavirus vaccine led by Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital and MCRI,” Dr Caples said.

The trial was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and PT BioFarma.

The Victorian Government has long been a supporter and contributor to the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, including through the Operational Infrastructure Support Program.