Historically, annual rotavirus activity in the United States has started in the southwest in late fall and ended in the northeast 3 months later; this trend has diminished in recent years. Traveling waves of infection or local environmental drivers cannot account for these patterns. A transmission model calibrated against epidemiological data shows that spatiotemporal variation in birth rate can explain the timing of rotavirus epidemics. The recent large-scale introduction of rotavirus vaccination provides a natural experiment to further test the impact of susceptible recruitment on disease dynamics. The model predicts a pattern of reduced and lagged epidemics postvaccination, closely matching the observed dynamics. Armed with this validated model, we explore the relative importance of direct and indirect protection, a key issue in determining the worldwide benefits of vaccination.
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