New $1 Vaccine Could Save Hundreds of Thousands of Babies

Developed in India, it’s the world’s cheapest vaccine to protect against rotavirus.

(Photo: Hadynyah/Getty Images)

Mar 13, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Most parents in the U.S. don’t typically have to worry about rotavirus—the most common cause of severe diarrhea among young children—thanks to access to insurance-covered vaccines. But in developing countries, where the average family can’t afford preventive treatment, the virus is one of the leading causes of death among children under five, and it’s a major killer in one country in particular.

Rotavirus is responsible for approximately 450,000 child deaths worldwide each year, with 100,000 of those in India alone, the World Health Organization reports. But the country’s newest medical innovation is set to be a game changer. This week, India launched Rotavac, its first indigenous vaccine against the virus, developed through the lab Bharat Biotech. It costs just $1 per dose, making it the world’s cheapest vaccine to protect against rotavirus.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially announced the vaccine’s success on Monday, The Better India reports. Now available for purchase, the inexpensive option is a result of 25 years of collaborative work between 300 scientists across U.S. and Indian institutions. The vaccine’s development was also supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which funds TakePart World.

Without vaccine protection, up to 98 percent of children will acquire the virus before the age of five, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children in developing countries are particularly at risk for the virus; lack of proper sanitation increases transmission, and limited access to health care is a challenge for many families, often pushing them into deep debt if they seek treatment.

Subsidized rotavirus vaccines from the U.S. have made their way to developing countries for $2.50 per dose in recent years, but having an option that costs just $1 makes a big difference—the average income in India is $616 per month, and those living in extreme poverty often earn less than $1.25 per day.

“Offering rotavirus vaccines at U.S. $1 price is a reaffirmation of our commitment to make vaccines affordable globally,” wrote Krishna Ella of Bharat Biotech. The genome facility, located in the southern Indian state of Telangana, is set to manufacture 300 million doses of Rotavac each year and will be selling it to government agencies and pharmaceutical companies throughout the country.