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Rotavirus vaccines may lower kids’ chances of getting type 1 diabetes

The association revealed in U.S. insurance data held true only for those fully vaccinated

BONUS EFFECT Children fully vaccinated against rotavirus appear to be less likely to develop type 1 diabetes than unvaccinated children, according to a large study of U.S. insurance records.


The rotavirus vaccine may have an unexpected benefit: a reduced likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. The vaccine is highly effective at protecting against intestinal infections caused by the virus (SN: 8/8/15, p. 5). Past work in mice prone to diabetes suggests infection with rotavirus can hasten damage to beta cells in the pancreas, the cells that are destroyed in a person with type 1 diabetes.

Researchers analyzed private insurance data, covering 2001 to 2017, for close to 1.5 million U.S. children who were infants at the time of enrollment. Among children fully vaccinated against rotavirus, there was a 41 percent reduction in the incidence of type 1 diabetes compared with unvaccinated children, the team reports online June 13 in Scientific Reports.

The results apply to both of the rotavirus vaccines available in the United States. In fully vaccinated children, the incidence of type 1 diabetes was 12.2 cases per 100,000 people per year; in the unvaccinated group, it was 20.6 per 100,000. There wasn’t a benefit for partially vaccinated kids either, those who did not complete the full number of doses. In the United States, around 1.25 million people have type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-secreting beta cells.

The new work was inspired by a study of Australian children, published in JAMA Pediatrics in January, which reported a decline in the incidence of type 1 diabetes after the start of routine rotavirus vaccination. The research suggests rotavirus vaccination may be a tool to help prevent type 1 diabetes, though more work is needed, says epidemiologist Mary Rogers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Type 1 diabetes “has no cure,” so preventing even a proportion of cases could transform lives, she says.

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