This article originally appeared on Sabin Vaccine Institute’s website on Wednesday, August 29, 2018.
MINSK, BELARUS – Beginning today, the 13th International Rotavirus Symposium, hosted by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control, PATH, ROTA Council, the Fogarty International Center at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Government of the Republic of Belarus, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is bringing together scientific experts, policy makers and public health officials to share the latest developments in the fast-moving field of rotavirus prevention. Attendees of the three-day Symposium will examine the latest results from new rotavirus vaccine trials and studies around the globe, with a special focus on the impact of rotavirus vaccine introduction on childhood diarrheal illness, advances in immunology and virology, the factors that enable or inhibit national decisions for vaccine introduction, issues in vaccine policy, and vaccine financing and safety.
The biennial International Rotavirus Symposium provides a crucial opportunity for researchers and national public health officials to discuss approaches to further reduce the global morbidity and mortality associated with rotavirus. While great strides have been made in the number of countries using rotavirus vaccines since the first rotavirus vaccine was introduced in 2006, diarrheal disease remains the second leading infectious killer of children under five years of age. Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrheal deaths globally, killing approximately 200,000 children in 2015 alone, according to recent estimates.
This year’s conference comes at a particularly significant time for rotavirus prevention and control efforts. In January 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) prequalified a new, low-cost rotavirus vaccine, developed and tested in India. The vaccine was evaluated in almost 7,000 Indian infants and was shown to be safe and efficacious, and is now being implemented in India. WHO prequalification is a critical step in expanding global access to this vaccine, as it enables UNICEF and other United Nations procurement agencies to purchase the vaccine and serves as an endorsement of the quality, efficacy and safety of the vaccine for countries interested in including it in their routine immunization programs. The newly expanded choice among rotavirus vaccines has the potential to prevent supply constraints, reduce pricing and increase access to the life-saving vaccines around the world.
“Sabin is honored to convene this year’s Symposium, which comes at a time of great promise for rotavirus research and prevention,” said Amy Finan, Chief Executive Officer of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “Rotavirus vaccines can prevent more than 2.4 million child deaths by 2030 if we expand access to immunization. With the recent prequalification of yet another safe and effective vaccine, the potential to build on past success has never been greater. We look forward to hearing from global experts on how to continue this progress and expand access to life-saving rotavirus vaccines in the years ahead.”
This year’s conference is being hosted in Minsk, Belarus, with the support of the Republican Research and Practical Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, which plays a critical role in informing rotavirus prevention and control efforts as the WHO EURO Regional Reference Laboratory in Europe. Since the 12th International Rotavirus Symposium in Melbourne, Australia, in 2016, an additional 15 countries have introduced rotavirus vaccines, bringing the global total to 96 countries worldwide. Only a third of countries in the European region, however, are routinely using rotavirus vaccines.
“For the Republic of Belarus, a country with a population of 9.5 million people located in the center of Europe, with its intensive migration and transport flows, the problems of controlling of infectious diseases, including rotavirus infection, are of particular importance,” said Natalia Zhukova, Deputy Minister of Health, Chief State Sanitarian, Republic of Belarus. “In recent years, Belarus’ national calendar of vaccinations has been replenished with Hib and pneumococcal vaccines. Questions are being considered on the introduction of vaccination against other infections, including rotavirus, varicella and HPV. I thank the organizers of the 13th International Rotavirus Symposium for choosing Belarus as the venue for it, and I thank all participants for having found the time and opportunity to participate in this symposium.”
On a global scale, despite the WHO recommendation that rotavirus vaccines should be introduced into every country’s national immunization program, 57 percent of the world’s children do not have access to this life-saving vaccine. Key vaccine introductions in countries with high diarrheal mortality, including the introduction effort currently underway in Afghanistan, present great hope for large-scale reductions in rotavirus mortality. Including Afghanistan, six of the 10 countries with the greatest number of rotavirus-related deaths have now introduced rotavirus vaccines nationally or initiated phased national introductions.
“While the global community is thrilled to see the ongoing expansion of rotavirus vaccine introductions, we are concerned that many countries, specifically those without the promise of Gavi support, are lagging behind in providing this live-saving option for their children. The new Indian rotavirus vaccine will play a significant role in providing additional supplies of a safe and efficacious vaccine at affordable prices for countries,” said Dr. Duncan Steele, Deputy Director for Enteric Vaccines at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Nearly 100 countries have introduced rotavirus vaccines,” said Mathu Santosham, Chair of the ROTA Council and Professor of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Yet the majority of infants worldwide still live in countries or states that have yet to introduce the vaccine. While there has been much progress made in introducing rotavirus vaccines in low-income countries, many middle-income countries have yet to introduce the vaccines. Also, even in countries where vaccines have been introduced, the most vulnerable children often do not have access. We need to protect all children.”
The full agenda for the 13th International Rotavirus Symposium is available on the Symposium’s website.
About the Sabin Vaccine Institute
The Sabin Vaccine Institute is a leading advocate for expanding vaccine access and uptake globally, advancing vaccine research and development, and amplifying vaccine knowledge and innovation. Unlocking the potential of vaccines through partnership, Sabin has built a robust ecosystem of funders, innovators, implementers, practitioners, policy makers and public stakeholders to advance its vision of a future free from preventable diseases. As a non-profit with more than two decades of experience, Sabin is committed to finding solutions that last and extending the full benefits of vaccines to all people, regardless of who they are or where they live. At Sabin, we believe in the power of vaccines to change the world. For more information, visit www.sabin.org and follow us on Twitter, @SabinVaccine.