New rotavirus vaccine

Federal committee recommends three doses before age 1

Parents may be asked to get one more vaccine—this one against rotavirus—for their babies if Illinois accepts recommendations recently made by a federal advisory committee.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended babies receive three doses of oral vaccine for rotavirus at age 2, 4 and 6 months.

Rotavirus can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, high fever and dehydration and "still remains a major cause of hospitalization," says Curtis Allen, a CDC spokesperson. In fact, rotavirus has been the cause of 200,000 emergency room visits a year as well as anywhere from 55,000 to 75,000 hospitalizations, Curtis says.

This newly approved vaccine is the first infant rotavirus vaccine since another was pulled from the market in 1999 after being linked to causing bowel obstructions. This new vaccine has not shown in studies to have any adverse side effects and prevented 96 percent of the most severe rotavirus cases and 74 percent of all cases.

This would bring to 20 the number of vaccinations for 13 different diseases that are recommended for children before age 1—which has some parents questioning if enough research has been done to ensure babies are safe. One of them is Christina Blakey of Oak Park, whose 3-year-old son went to the emergency room when he contracted rotavirus.

"They recommend so many vaccines at such a young age," Blakey says. "I believe in vaccines theoretically. The problem I have is the way the government has gone about mandating them and testing their safety."

Blakey’s older son, now 6, is autistic—a neurological disorder she links to the mercury preservative thimerosal used in some vaccinations at the time her son received them.

Since then, the preservative has been banned in most immunizations. Although, Allen says, some influenza vaccines still have trace amounts of thimerosal. However, the new rotavirus vaccine does not.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine released a series of studies that found no link between autism and thimerosal but suggested more research was needed on autism and its causes.

Doctors caution vaccines protect children from dangerous infections such as polio and measles.

"We have a great opportunity [with vaccines] to prevent childhood diseases," says Dr. Joseph Bocchini of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases.

But Lyn Redwood, president and co-founder of SafeMinds, an advocacy group for parents with autistic children, says she worries that there are no long-term studies looking at the effects of vaccinations.

"Our organization is not anti-vaccine but we are anti-mercury," says the nurse practitioner who lives in Atlanta. "At some point in time we really need to step back and look at what we are doing."

The recommendation goes next to the CDC’s director and the Department of Health and Human Services’ secretary for approval—something that could happen by April. (The committee carries weight and more often than not its recommendations are accepted.)

If approved, it is published as part of the CDC’s recommended childhood and adolescent immunization schedule, which becomes the guideline for most states, including Illinois.

Meg Shreve


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