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Date: 14 Dec 2011

Rotarix in Japan: Expectations and Concerns


A live-attenuated, orally-administered, monovalent, human rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix® (GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, Rixensart, Belgium), was licensed and launched in 2011 as the first rotavirus vaccine in Japan. The rotavirus causes a substantial disease burden with an estimated 790,000 outpatient visits, 27,000–78,000 hospitalizations, and approximately 10 deaths each year in Japan. Since a recent clinical trial showed that Rotarix was as efficacious in Japan as in other industrialized countries, it is expected that the annual number of rotavirus hospitalizations will be reduced to between 1000–3000, and that outpatient visits will be reduced to 200,000. The universal rotavirus immunization program with Rotarix was calculated to be at the threshold of being cost-effective, even from the healthcare perspective, and it was highly cost-effective from the societal perspective, assuming that Rotarix is co-administered with other childhood vaccines. While Rotarix contains only a single G1P[8] human rotavirus, the postlicensure studies in Brazil showed that Rotarix provided a 75%–85% protective efficacy against severe dehydrating diarrhea or hospitalizations due to fully-heterotypic G2P[4] strains. While postlicensure studies detected a small and finite risk of intussusception associated with the administration of Rotarix, the authors conclude that Rotarix is safe to administer to infants between 6-12 weeks of age for the first dose and by 24 weeks of age for the second dose. However, the authors strongly discourage the delayed administration of the first dose between 13-20 weeks of age, which is allowed without any warning. Given the high incidence of naturally-occurring intussusception in Japan (185 cases per 100,000 children/year among children less than 1 year of age), this should prevent pediatricians and parents from having ill-perceptions of Rotarix being associated with an increased number of temporally-associated intussusception, and fully appreciate the benefit of the rotavirus vaccine.

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