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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin

Tackling preventable diseases: improving rotavirus vaccines



The Tackling preventable diseases: improving rotavirus vaccines project aimed to investigate the real-world effectiveness of a vaccine to prevent severe diarrhea in children in the Northern Territory.

Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoeal disease in infants and young children globally. The NT historically records very high rates of hospitalisation for rotavirus gastroenteritis especially among Indigenous children. Infection is caused by close person-to-person contact and touching contaminated hands, faeces and vomit.

Over a two-year period, nurses at Alice Springs Hospital and Royal Darwin Hospital identified children who were admitted to hospital with acute gastroenteritis, and children who were admitted with respiratory illnesses. The immunisation status of all the children in the study was established using the Northern Territory Immunisation Register.

This work showed that vaccination for rotavirus reduced the risk of gastroenteritis by around 50%.

However protective effect declines among older children. The decline in protection was most pronounced against rotavirus strains that were least like the vaccine strain, suggesting that rotavirus vaccines are more strongly protective against strains of rotavirus they’re most similar to.

The project demonstrated that rotavirus vaccination has a protective effect amongst Indigenous children, but that the residual burden of rotavirus gastroenteritis specifically, and diarrhoeal disease in general, remains high.

The next phase of the project will investigate how existing rotavirus vaccines can be delivered more efficiently to Indigenous children.

Abstract adapted from Menzies School of Health Research


Menzies School of Health Research
John Matthews Building (JMB)
Building 58, Royal Darwin Hospital Campus
PO Box 41096
Casuarina NT 0811
Ph: (08) 8922 8196

Related publications

Snelling TL, Andrews RM, Kirkwood CD, Culvenor S, Carapetis JR (2011)

Case-control evaluation of the effectiveness of the G1P[8] human rotavirus vaccine during an outbreak of rotavirus G2P[4] infection in Central Australia.

Clinical Infectious Diseases; 52(2): 191-199

Snelling TL, Schultz R, Graham J, Roseby R, Barnes GL, Andrews RM, Carapetis JR (2009)

Rotavirus and the Indigenous children of the Australian outback: monovalent vaccine effective in a high-burden setting.

Clinical Infectious Diseases; 49(3): 428-431

Snelling TL, Markey P, Carapetis JR, Andrews RM (2012)

Rotavirus in the Northern Territory before and after vaccination.

Microbiology Australia; 33(2): 61-63


Last updated: 8 January 2014
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