Charlie Bevins is an above-average Portland 12 year old. He is an excellent student who plays hockey and helps take care of his younger brother. His friends love him for his wacky sense of humor as well as his loyalty. To see him today, it’s hard to imagine how ill he had been when he was just 3. “He had a fever with vomiting and diarrhea for two days,” says his mother Katie. “His symptoms weren’t getting better—they were getting worse. He was dehydrated.” Katie took Charlie to the doctor and discovered he had rotavirus, a disease that once struck nearly every child in the U.S. before he or she turned 5, regardless of the level of sanitation or hygiene in the home. “The doctor said he probably got it from a shopping cart handle,” Katie says. Charlie was sick for five days. “It was horrible to see my child suffer like that. I would have done anything to prevent it.” Now, children can be protected from getting rotavirus by receiving a vaccine.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in the U.S. before the rotavirus vaccine became available in 2006, rotavirus usually caused about 400,000 doctor office visits, 200,000 visits to the emergency department, 70,000 hospitalizations and 60 deaths every year. Charlie got the illness before the vaccine was available, but now millions of children and their parents are spared the agony of rotavirus if they get the vaccination before 15 weeks of age. The Journal of Infectious Diseases reports that the vaccine can even reduce the risk of diarrhea in older groups. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study identified a 71 percent decrease in rotavirus-associated hospitalizations among children ages 5-14 since the majority of babies started getting the rotavirus vaccine.
“Community immunity is an important concept for me,” Katie says. “As a parent, I want to make sure my kids are protected and they won’t spread disease to people who can’t be vaccinated.” The Bevins’ younger son is autistic, so Katie has met many parents who still wonder about a vaccine-autism link even though scientists haven’t been able to link the two. “I don’t understand parents who won’t vaccinate and rely on herd immunity to protect their children. An illness like rotavirus is nasty—everyone should immunize their babies so families won’t have to go through it anymore.”