An Important Infant Vaccine Is Put on Hold

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Diarrhea is more than just unpleasant; it can be a baby killer. And on Thursday, one of the world’s bright hopes for fighting this common ailment in young children — a recently approved rotavirus vaccine sold as Rotashield — was put on hold by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials asked doctors around the country to suspend using the vaccine immediately because of new monitoring data suggesting a possible link between the vaccine and a painful blockage of the intestines. "This is a very important development," says TIME medical columnist Christine Gorman. "During clinical testing there were some indications of an association with intestinal blockage, but they were not thought to be statistically significant." The latest reports of 20 cases, however, prompted the government to signal a cautionary amber light.

Medical experts are very concerned about the possibility of losing the vaccine. Worldwide, some 600,000 young children die from the dehydration caused by diarrhea, mostly in the developing world. In the United States, says Gorman, half a million children each year come down with a serious enough case to require medical attention. Fifty thousand of them require hospitalization, with 20 to 40 of them dying. The government action advises doctors to stop using the vaccine at least until November. "That’s because a new study will be coming out," says Gorman. Doctors are crossing their fingers and hoping the research will green-light the vaccine.