Hilleman Laboratories, an India-based joint venture between Merck and Britain’s Wellcome Trust Charity, recently announced it is working on an oral rotavirus vaccine designed to be cheaper and easier to use than current shots. The vaccine will prevent diarrhea-causing rotavirus and will consist of strips or granules that dissolve in the mouth and can be easily stored, transported, or administered.
Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea. It is believed to sicken millions and results in the deaths of over 500,000 children each year. Current rotavirus vaccines must be kept in cold storage, making transportation expensive and difficult. According to WHO, between 10 and 50% of vaccines may be wasted due to logistical problems each year.
The move to an oral vaccine is expected to limit the for-profit sales of Merck’s Rotateq vaccine. However, sales are already limited by price and the need for refrigeration. The move is expected to take 2-4 years and by that time the patent on Rotateq will be expired.
The move to the oral vaccine has the potential to revolutionize vaccine development and delivery. If an effective vaccine can be designed so that it can be stored, transported, and administered without creating logistical complexities (i.e. refrigeration) or increasing price, then a platform can be made where both global health and private business models can benefit. Such a scenario may be the best case for encouraging companies to pursue crucial global health fixes.