Trends in the Laboratory Detection of Rotavirus Before and After Implementation of Routine Rotavirus Vaccination — United States, 2000–2018

Benjamin D. Hallowell, PhD; Umesh D. Parashar, MD; Aaron Curns, MPH; Nicholas P. DeGroote, MPH; Jacqueline E. Tate, PhD


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2019;68(24):539-543. 

In This Article


Implementation of the rotavirus vaccination program has markedly reduced the prevalence of rotavirus disease in the United States. In all postvaccine-era seasons from 2007–08 to 2017–18, rotavirus activity consistently fell below the 2000–2006 baseline, and seasons were shorter in duration compared with those during the prevaccine era, which further attests to the long-term benefits of the rotavirus vaccination program. Some of the observed changes in rotavirus activity that occurred after vaccine introduction could be due to concurrent changes in rotavirus testing practices as PCR-based multipathogen detection assays are increasingly used. Although this shift in testing practices might explain some of the declines observed in the total number of tests performed and the number of positive tests, the substantial reductions in the proportion of rotavirus tests that were positive (which is less affected by changes in testing practices alone), supports attribution of the declines to the effects of vaccination.

Introduction of rotavirus vaccine has also modified the seasonality of rotavirus disease in the United States, with a biennial trend emerging in the postvaccine era beginning in the 2008–09 rotavirus season. Since vaccine introduction, coverage has slowly increased and completed coverage has plateaued at approximately 70%. The lower coverage of rotavirus compared with other childhood vaccines might be explained in part by the fact that rotavirus vaccine does not offer the same opportunity for catch-up because the first dose must be given by age 15 weeks, and the series must be completed by age 8 months.[2,5] The biennial trend observed in the United States could be attributed to this low vaccination coverage, with the number of susceptible children accumulating in low rotavirus activity years, resulting in a higher number of susceptible children and a subsequent rotavirus outbreak during the following season.[6] Countries that rapidly achieved and maintained rotavirus vaccination coverage of 90%–95%, such as the United Kingdom, have experienced a sustained decline in rotavirus activity without the biennial trend observed in the United States.[7] As vaccination coverage and on-time vaccination continue to improve in the United States, the seasonality of rotavirus disease can be monitored to see whether the biennial trend continues.

The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, aggregate NREVSS data are reported, without demographic or clinical characteristics (including vaccination status), precluding examination of these characteristics. Second, these data were collected from a passive surveillance system composed of a convenience sample of laboratories and might not be representative of all those in the United States. Finally, because rotavirus testing does not affect clinical management (which focuses on rehydration and syndromic management), testing practices vary from site to site and year to year, which might affect data comparability.[1,6] However, NREVSS data have advantages, including the ability to describe trends in rotavirus activity in the United States in a timely fashion. In addition, NREVSS data have consistently aligned with rotavirus-related U.S. hospital discharge data and active surveillance data.[8–10]

Rotavirus vaccination has resulted in a significant and sustained reduction of disease prevalence and has modified the seasonality of rotavirus disease in the United States. To maximize the public health impact of rotavirus vaccination, efforts to improve coverage and on-time vaccination should continue.