A vaccine given to children to protect them from stomach problems is associated with a lower risk of type 1 diabetes, Australian researchers suggest.
The rotavirus vaccination is available routinely as part of the childhood vaccination programme for babies aged eight weeks and 12 weeks.
The researchers behind the study do not yet understand the mechanisms behind the association and plan to investigate the link more in detail.
Rotavirus is a highly infectious stomach bug that normally affects babies and small children. The condition can impair the production of insulin, which researchers say could be associated with the development of type 1 diabetes in those who have not had the vaccine.
Type 1 diabetes numbers have steadily increased in Australia since the 1980s. However, since the rotavirus vaccine was introduced, the number of children aged four and under who are diagnosed has dropped from 8.7 to 7.5 cases for every 100,000 children.
Research teams from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute wanted to further investigate how the vaccination might be helping.
They noticed a 14% decline in type 1 diabetes numbers among children aged four or younger once the vaccine had been administered. However, there was not a significant change in rate within older children, the findings showed.
“The significant decrease in type 1 diabetes that we detected in young children after 2007 was not seen in older children aged 5-14. This suggests the young children could have been exposed to a protective factor that didn’t impact older children,” said lead study author Dr Kirsten Perrett of the University of Melbourne in Australia.
“We observed the decline in the rate of type 1 diabetes in children born after 2007 coincided with the introduction of the oral rotavirus vaccine onto the Australian National Immunisation Program in 2007.”
Professor Len Harrison from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute added: “While not conclusive, our latest study suggests that preventing rotavirus infection in Australian infants by vaccination may also reduce their risk of type 1 diabetes. We will be continuing this research to look more closely at the correlation, by comparing the health records of young children with or without type 1 diabetes.
“At this stage we don’t yet know whether the reduction in type 1 diabetes is a permanent effect or transient, and it may only be relevant to Australian children.”
The results have been published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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