Vaccinating against the common infant infection rotavirus not only cuts a child’s odds of getting sick, it might also prevent them from developing type 1 diabetes later in life, new research suggests.
Infants who got all of the recommended doses of the “stomach flu” virus vaccine had a 33% lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes compared with unvaccinated babies, according to a study led by Mary Rogers. She’s an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
Type 1 diabetes involves the death of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. People with the illness require daily insulin shots, and long-term effects on their health can be severe.
The new study relied on national insurance data on over 1.5 million kids born before or after the rotavirus vaccine was made available to babies in 2006.
Type 1 diabetes “is an uncommon condition, so it takes large amounts of data to see any trends across a population,” Rogers explained in a university news release.
While children who had all three doses of the vaccine seemed to be protected against type 1 diabetes, those who didn’t complete the regimen were not, the researchers noted. Rogers stressed that the study cannot prove that the vaccine prevents type 1 diabetes, only that there’s an association.
“It will take more time and analyses to confirm these findings,” she said. “But we do see a decline in type 1 diabetes in young children after the rotavirus vaccine was introduced.”
Getting the full, recommended dose of rotavirus vaccine was crucial, however. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that babies begin receiving the multidose vaccine by 15 weeks of age at the latest, and finish receiving it before 8 months of age. The rotavirus vaccine is delivered via oral drops, not a needle.
An Australian study published earlier in 2019 found similar results, Rogers noted. And she estimated that if all U.S. children were fully immunized against rotavirus, there might be eight fewer cases of type 1 diabetes per 100,000 children each year.
Right now, one in four infants don’t get all three of the recommended doses of the rotavirus vaccine, the Michigan team noted. That’s important, because being fully vaccinated reduces the chance of being hospitalized for rotavirus infection by 94%, the study authors said.
Rogers stressed that the research is still in its early stages.
“Five years from now, we will know much more,” she said. “The first groups of children to receive the rotavirus vaccine in the United States are now in grade school, when type 1 diabetes is most often detected. Hopefully, in years to come, we’ll have fewer new cases — but based on our study findings, that depends upon parents bringing in their children to get vaccinated.”
The report was published online June 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.
For more about the rotavirus vaccine, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.