Rotavirus Vaccine Reduces Hospitalizations, Medical Costs Among Children

Widespread immunization against rotavirus reduced direct medical costs by $1.2 billion.

The implementation of a routine vaccination against rotavirus during childhood has resulted in significant cost savings, according to a new study published by the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.

Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrheal disease in young children in the United States, which is now avoidable due to a vaccine against the pathogen. Infants and young children who develop gastroenteritis as a result of the virus can become severely dehydrated and require hospitalization. In some cases, the patients can even die, highlighting the condition’s severity and the need for vaccination, according to the CDC.

The authors estimated that the rotavirus vaccine prevented more than 380,000 hospitalizations for diarrheal disease between 2008 and 2013, which resulted in a savings of $1.2 billion.

The authors suggest that their projections provide additional evidence that rotavirus vaccination elicits significant benefits in terms of patient health and avoided medical costs.

Included in the study were data from 26 hospitals of children 5 years and younger who were hospitalized for acute gastroenteritis. The authors compared hospitalizations before and after the vaccine’s licensure in 2006.

The investigators found that after the initiation of routine vaccination against the rotavirus, diarrhea hospitalizations decreased from 31% to 55% between 2008 to 2013, according to the study. The authors noted that more significant decreases were observed during the later years.

Over the 6-year period, the authors projected that 380,000 hospitalizations were avoided among this population.

"Our findings confirm the sustained impact and effectiveness of the rotavirus vaccine program," said study author Eyal Leshem, MD. "Increasing vaccine coverage likely resulted in the larger declines of rotavirus hospitalizations observed in the later years studied."

Overall, rotavirus vaccination was estimated to save $1.2 billion during this time period; however, the authors noted that this figure is likely underestimated. The authors believe that the total cost savings of the vaccination would likely incorporate mitigated costs linked to physician’s offices or emergency visits, which were not included, according to the study.

In 2015, the CDC reported that approximately 73% of children aged 19 to 35 months received the rotavirus vaccine, which is lower than other vaccination rates.

Future studies should investigate why the immunization rates are lower for rotavirus compared with tetanus and diphtheria to improve uptake, according to the authors. These studies should also develop approaches to improve vaccination rates.

"Efforts to further increase rotavirus vaccine coverage rates to better protect all children in the US against rotavirus disease should continue,” Dr Leshem said.