Pig Virus in Rotavirus Vaccine Raises Questions

PAKISTAN - The viral contamination of GlaxoSmithKline’s rotavirus vaccine Rotarix by pig virus raises serious questions in the minds of health experts. However, all concerned health authorities in Pakistan are unmoved on the subject.
calendar icon 6 April 2010
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On 22 March, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had announced the viral contamination of Rotarix and asked doctors to temporarily stop using the vaccine to infants though the FDA claimed that the virus is not known to cause illness in humans or animals. Switzerland has also asked doctors to stop using the GSK’s vaccine at least for the time being, reports The News. Recently, an independent academic research team has tested Rotarix and identified porcine circovirus 1 (PCV-1), a DNA virus in the vaccine that infects pigs. Later, the FDA confirmed the viral contamination and asked doctors to stop its usage.

The European Medicines Authority, however, has taken no action on the report so far, terming that the findings did not represent a public health threat.

The Rotarix vaccine is administered by mouth to infants from two to four months to prevent rotavirus that can cause severe diarrhoea and dehydration. According to estimates, the rotavirus causes 500,000 infant deaths around the globe every year, mostly in developing countries.

“The contamination of two-dose vaccine by a pig virus should be taken seriously as we being Muslims are much concerned on the subject,“ said Head of Paediatrics Department at Benazir Bhutto Hospital Professor Dr Rai Muhammad Asghar while talking to ‘The News’ on Thursday.

The Rotarix vaccine is the only vaccine available in markets of Pakistan for prevention from rotavirus. The rotavirus vaccine has not been included in the expanded programme on immunisation so far and also it is not administered at public sector hospitals in Pakistan. Most of the affording population gets its administration to their children by purchasing it from the open market.

Dr Rai said that it is the right of the parents that they should be informed of the viral contamination of Rotarix before they go for its administration to their children. “Also, it is responsibility of the manufacturers to explain why the vaccine is contaminated by pig virus while its production has apparently nothing to do with pigs,“ he said.

“In my opinion, the use of Rotarix should be banned till the completion of investigations into the matter,“ he responded to a query. He said that the FDA’s stance that there is no clinical risk of the Rotarix administration is unclear. “Who knows what complications the pig virus can cause in a child after ten years or so after administration of the vaccine having viral contamination?“ He said that the American children are not more important than Pakistani children and children should be treated equally around the globe.

A paediatrician at the Holy Family Hospital, Dr Tariq Saeed, said that there is no need of administering a contaminated vaccine to children. He, like Dr Rai, said that the government authorities should look into the matter seriously and investigations should be made that why the vaccine contains pig virus.

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