Meet a Scientist: Colgate Examines Rotavirus Vaccine Efficacy in Non-U.S. Countries

December 15, 2016 by Erin Post

UVM Vaccine Testing Center researcher E. Ross Colgate, M.P.H., spent two years working in Bangladesh trying to understand why a rotavirus vaccine that prevents the majority of cases in the U.S. works only 40 to 60 percent of the time in Bangladeshi infants. Finding an answer could save hundreds of thousands of lives given rotavirus’ status as the leading cause of diarrhea in young children worldwide, among whom diarrhea is the second leading cause of death.

E. Ross Colgate, M.P.H., Researcher/Analyst in the Vaccine Testing Center at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. (Courtesy photo)

UVM Vaccine Testing Center researcher E. Ross Colgate, M.P.H., spent two years working in Bangladesh trying to understand why a rotavirus vaccine that prevents the majority of cases in the U.S. works only 40 to 60 percent of the time in Bangladeshi infants. Finding an answer could save hundreds of thousands of lives given rotavirus’ status as the leading cause of diarrhea in young children worldwide, among whom diarrhea is the second leading cause of death.

Through a Gates Foundation grant, Colgate helped conduct a randomized clinical trial of the rotavirus vaccine in 700 infants in Dhaka, Bangladesh, following them from the first week of life through their second birthday. The study’s results, published in May 2016 in Clinical Infectious Diseases, not only confirmed low efficacy of the rotavirus vaccine (51 percent), but also revealed a never-before-known association, which got Colgate excited.

“Zinc levels in the blood were highly predictive of whether a child had rotavirus diarrhea,” she says, and the protective effect of zinc was independent of the vaccine. Overlaying two world maps – one showing where zinc deficiency is prevalent, and the other showing where rotavirus has a strong presence –further suggests that this is worth exploring. She’s tackling it with her newest research project as she finishes up a Ph.D. in Clinical and Translational Science at UVM.