NPR : News

Filed Under:

Rotavirus Vaccine Doesn't Boost Risk Of Intestinal Problem

When a vaccine for rotavirus debuted in 1998, it was hailed as a huge plus for children's health. Before that, rotavirus killed more than 400,000 young children a year worldwide by causing severe diarrhea. Problem solved? Not quite.

Shortly after the Rotashield vaccine was introduced, doctors noticed an increase in cases of a serious intestinal problem called intussusception, when the intestine doubles back into itself. It is fatal if not treated, sometimes with emergency surgery.

Investigations determined that Rotashield, made by Wyeth (now part of Pfizer), increased a baby's risk of intussusception up to 30 times. As a result, the vaccine was yanked off the market in 1999.

The scientists never did figure out why the vaccine increased the risk of the intestinal problem. Newer rotavirus vaccines were developed, tested and licensed in 2006 and 2008. (Here's an NPR story on efforts to develop a safer vaccine.)

But concerns persist, fueled by two recent studies that found a fivefold increased risk of intussusception in babies in Australia and Mexico during the first week after they were given the vaccine.

So researchers looked at a big database of American children who had been given the new RotaTeq vaccine (made by Merck) between 2006 and 2010. They looked at 786,725 doses, of which 309,844 were first doses. They found no increase in intussusception. The results were published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The benefits of rotavirus vaccine do outweigh risks," says Irene Shui, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Harvard-Pilgrim Health Care Institute who is the lead author of the study. This study was funded in part by a contract with the Centers Disease Control and Prevention.

But she told Shots that that doesn't mean that these new vaccines are completely risk-free. "It's important for the public to realize that every treatment or intervention does have some risk." This study, she says, will help parents get a better grasp on those risks.

If you're interested in more details, there's a JAMA video with Shui.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


From Trembling Teacher To Seasoned Mentor: How Tim Gunn Made It Work

Gunn, the mentor to young designers on Project Runway, has been a teacher and educator for decades. But he spent his childhood "absolutely hating, hating, hating, hating school," he says.

How Do We Get To Love At 'First Bite'?

It's the season of food, and British food writer Bee Wilson has a book on how our food tastes are formed. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with her about her new book, "First Bite: How We Learn to Eat."

Osceola At The 50-Yard Line

The Seminole Tribe of Florida works with Florida State University to ensure it that its football team accurately presents Seminole traditions and imagery.

Reviving Payoff For Prediction – Of Terrorism Risk

Could an electronic market where people bet on the likelihood of attacks deter terrorism? NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Stephen Carter about the potential for a terror prediction market.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.