After U.S. infants began regularly receiving a vaccine for rotavirus, it’s no surprise that it helped prevent babies from contracting the severe gastrointestinal illness. But according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control, the impact was actually widespread across all age groups — as more babies got vaccinated against rotavirus, older children and adults became less likely to come down with it, too.
The rotavirus vaccine was first introduced in 2006. Before that, nearly all of the children in the U.S. came down with the infection at some point before their fifth birthday, and about 60,000 to 70,000 children were hospitalized because of it every year. Since the vaccine’s introduction, however, the results have been dramatic. The CDC’s researchers found that among hospital patients under the age of four, the incidence of rotavirus dropped by 80 percent.
That’s not the only demographic that benefited from the vaccine, though. Researchers also found a 70 percent drop in rotavirus infections among hospital patients between the ages of five and 14, and a 53 percent drop among those between the ages of 15 and 24.
“By vaccinating infants, you prevent them from getting infected, but you also prevent them from infecting others,” Ben Lopman, one of the report’s co-authors and an epidemiologist for the CDC, explained to HealthDay. It’s what medical professionals call “herd immunity.”
Thanks to that herd effect, researchers estimate that about 15,000 hospitalizations are now avoided each year among older people who haven’t actually been vaccinated against rotavirus themselves. Now that the infection rate is in such sharp decline, it’s hardly an issue among American patients whatsoever anymore.
“A resident trained now would say rotavirus was a disease that doesn’t exist,” Dr. Marcelo Laufer, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Miami Children’s Hospital, told HealthDay. “That’s the influence of the vaccine.” The CDC now recommends that all children begin receiving rotavirus vaccines once they’re two months old.
Rotavirus is hardly the only contagious infection that has been nearly wiped out thanks to medical advances in immunizations. Thanks to vaccines, the United States has virtually eradicated more than a dozen once-common childhood diseases. Nevertheless, it’s always possible for a diseases that’s once been under control to make a comeback, as evidenced by the current measles outbreak in Texas. That outbreak has been traced to an evangelical megachurch whose pastor has propagated myths about vaccines’ link to autism.
The CDC continues to tirelessly fight against vaccine misinformation, including the widely-debunked idea that they have any kind of connection to autism. Multiple studies have confirmed that the CDC’s current vaccination schedule is safe for children, but some parents are still wary about following it, wondering if the recommended immunizations are clustered too close together.