Rotavirus Vaccine Linked to Lower Risk of Type 1 Diabetes

A new study found that infants fully vaccinated against rotavirus were 33% less likely to develop type 1 diabetes later in life than children who didn’t receive the vaccine.

Infants fully vaccinated against rotavirus were 33% less likely to develop type 1 diabetes later in life than those who weren’t vaccinated, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, examined nationwide health insurance data of nearly 1.5 million infants in the US between 2001 and 2017. Those who received the pentavalent vaccine, which protects against 5 different types of rotavirus, had a 37% reduction in their risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Those who received only part of the recommended vaccinations saw no reduction in the incidence of type 1 diabetes.

“Rotavirus vaccination may be the first practical measure that could lower the risk of developing type 1 diabetes,” Mary A.M. Rogers, PhD, MS, research associate professor at the University of Michigan Department of Internal Medicine, told Contagion®.

The study noted that the results reflected those of an earlier study in Australia that found a 14% reduction in type 1 diabetes among children ages 0-4 years who received the rotavirus vaccine. It also noted laboratory studies of mice found that rotavirus attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Additionally, another study demonstrated that rotavirus was associated with islet autoimmunity, a feature of type 1 diabetes. Still, some children who received all recommended doses of the vaccine developed type 1 diabetes, suggesting other factors may be at play.

“For basic scientists, the next steps are to evaluate whether other gut viruses also have an effect on the incidence of type 1 diabetes,” Rogers told Contagion®.

More research is needed to determine whether the lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes extends throughout the lifetime of the participants.

The study also found that the vaccine was effective, with children who were vaccinated against rotavirus having a 94% lower rate of hospitalization for rotavirus infections and 31% lower rate of hospitalization for any reason in the first 2 months after vaccination. It also raised concerns about the relatively large number of children who didn’t receive full vaccination, noting that New England and Pacific states had lowest vaccination rates.

“It is important for pediatricians and family doctors to stress to parents the importance of completing the recommended rotavirus vaccine series,” Rogers said. “Only infants who received the entire vaccine series had a lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Parents should know that sometimes vaccines do more than protecting against acute infections—they can sometimes protect against chronic disease such as type 1 diabetes and cancer (with the HPV vaccine).”

Since the rotavirus vaccine was introduced in the United States in 2006, the average percentage of tests that were positive for rotavirus fell from 25.6% to 6.1%, according to a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average positive tests during peak times fell from 43.1% to 15%. The average duration of the rotavirus season also declined from 26 weeks to 9 weeks.

In past studies that showed the benefits of the rotavirus vaccine outweighed the risks, the vaccine was associated with a decrease in deaths from diarrhea and hospitalizations and emergency department visits.

Another study found that vaccinations, including for rotavirus, reduced the risk of poverty related to medical reasons.