Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital first to vaccinate against bowel infection in vulnerable babies
20 May 2016
On May 17, 2016, doctors at the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital, a division of the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht, will start vaccinating vulnerable babies against the very infectious rotavirus – which can lead to severe diarrhea and dehydration – as part of the RIVAR project. Pediatricians will use a vaccine that many countries already administer to all babies as a standard measure. The research results of the project, which extends over twelve hospitals, will determine the Netherlands’ follow-up with a national vaccination program.
Every year during the winter months the rotavirus rears its ugly head and causes gastroenteritis and severe diarrhea epidemics among young children, causing close to 5,000 children to be hospitalized each year. A rotavirus infection often results in hospitalization and in exceptional cases in death among babies who are born prematurely, have low birth weight or suffer congenital defects. “Vaccinating this vulnerable group spares a lot of distress among repeat patients because they are apt to become more seriously ill and are already very sickly,” says Patricia Bruijning-Verhagen, pediatrician and epidemiologist at the UMC Utrecht Julius Center.
As part of the RIVAR (Risk-group Infant Vaccination Against Rotavirus) project, which is led by the UMC Utrecht and in which 12 hospitals in the Netherlands will participate, vulnerable babies are given an oral vaccine against the rotavirus at approximately 8 weeks old, followed by a second dose at home when they are 3 or 4 months old. To study the effectiveness of the vaccine, the babies will be monitored and checked for bowel infections until they are 18 months old. Bruijning-Verhagen says, “The vaccine has been available for ten years now. Our neighboring countries have already shown that it is effective against gastroenteritis and diarrhea among their entire baby population. But little is known about how effective it is for vulnerable babies, whereas they are the ones that need the vaccine the most.”
“It would be ideal if we could vaccinate all children, but that is relatively more costly,” says Bruijning-Verhagen. “Our previous study showed that vaccinating risk groups is very cost-effective. If it is found that the vaccine is sufficiently effective for vulnerable babies as well, we may expect that a nationwide vaccination program will be implemented for them. We are also researching the provision of this new kind of vaccination care via pediatrics. The experience we will gain will help us to eventually organize this care as effectively as possible.
In the Netherlands an estimated 190,000 people per year become ill due to being infected with the rotavirus. Approximately 60,000 of those cases are children under five years old. They can already be vaccinated in the Netherlands, but it is not included in the National Vaccination Program. Parents can request the vaccine from their general practitioner on their own initiative, but they will have to pay for it themselves.