Background. The rhesus-human rotavirus reassortant-tetravalent vaccine (RRV-TV) was licensed on August, 31, 1998, and subsequently recommended for routine infant immunizations in the United States. After ∼1 million doses had been administered, an increase in acute risk of intussusception in vaccinees led to the suspension of the use of RRV-TV and its withdrawal from the market. These postmarketing safety studies focused on a single adverse event (intussusception) and, to minimize the risk of a false-positive finding, accepted only cases that met a strict case definition. Safer rotavirus vaccines are needed to prevent the substantial global morbidity and mortality caused by rotavirus infections; their development and future use may benefit from a better understanding of the postmarketing safety profile of RRV-TV beyond intussusception.

Objective. To characterize more completely the postmarketing surveillance safety profile of RRV-TV by review and analysis of Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) case reports to better understand 1) whether severe adverse events other than intussusception may have occurred after RRV-TV and 2) the likely scope of gastrointestinal illnesses, of which the previously identified, highly specific intussusception cases may account for just a fraction.

Setting and Participants. Infants vaccinated with RRV-TV and other vaccines in the United States and for whom a report was submitted to VAERS during September 1, 1998, to December 31, 1999.

Methodology. To detect adverse events of interest other than intussusception, we used proportional morbidity analysis to compare the adverse event profile of VAERS reports among infants who received routine vaccines including RRV-TV (after excluding confirmed and suspected intussusception reports) with infants who received identical vaccine combinations but without RRV-TV. Next, to better capture all described diagnoses, signs, and symptoms associated with the suspected adverse events, a set of new codes was developed and assigned to each VAERS report. All 448 nonfatal RRV-TV-associated reports (including intussusception) were recoded manually from the clinical description on the VAERS report and categorized into clinical groups to better describe a spectrum of reported illnesses after the vaccine. Each report was assigned to one of the following hierarchical and mutually exclusive clinical groups: 1) diagnosed intussusception; 2) suspected intussusception; 3) illness consistent with either gastroenteritis or intussusception; 4) gastroenteritis; 5) other gastrointestinal diagnoses (ie, not consistent with intussusception or rotavirus-like gastroenteritis); and 6) nongastrointestinal diagnoses.

Results. Even after excluding intussusception cases, a higher proportion of RRV-TV reports than non-RRV-TV reports included fever and various gastrointestinal symptoms, most notably bloody stool but also vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, gastroenteritis, abnormal stool, and dehydration. Distribution of RRV-TV reports by clinical groups was as follows: diagnosed intussusception (109 [24%], suspected intussusception (36 [8%]), and illness consistent with gastroenteritis or intussusception (33 [7%]), gastroenteritis (101 [22%]), other gastrointestinal diagnoses (10 [2%]), and nongastrointestinal outcomes (159 [35%]). The median time interval between vaccination and illness onset decreased incrementally among the first 4 clinical groups: from 7 days for diagnosed intussusceptions to 3 days for gastroenteritis.

Conclusions. Intussusception and gastroenteritis were the most commonly reported outcomes; however, a substantial number of reports indicate signs and symptoms consistent with either illness, possibly suggestive of a spectrum of gastrointestinal illness(es) related to RRV-TV. Although VAERS data have recognized limitations such as underreporting (that may differ by vaccine) and are nearly always insufficient to prove causality between a vaccine and an adverse event, this safety profile of RRV-TV may aid better understanding of the pathophysiology of intussusception as well as development of future safer rotavirus vaccines.

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