Although the introduction of rotavirus vaccines has substantially contributed to the reduction in rotavirus morbidity and mortality, concerns persist about the re-emergence of variant strains that might alter vaccine effectiveness in the long term. The G9 strains re-emerged in Africa during the mid-1990s and have more recently become predominant in some countries, such as Ghana and Zambia. In Rwanda, during the 2011 to 2015 routine surveillance period, G9P persisted during both the pre- and post-vaccine periods. The pre-vaccination cohort was based on the surveillance period of 2011 to 2012, and the post-vaccination cohort was based on the period of 2013 to 2015, excluding 2014. The RotaTeq® vaccine that was first introduced in Rwanda in 2012 is genotypically heterologous to Viral Protein 7 (VP7) G9. This study elucidated the whole genome of Rwandan G9P rotavirus strains pre- and post-RotaTeq® vaccine introduction. Fecal samples from Rwandan children under the age of five years (pre-vaccine n = 23; post-vaccine n = 7), conventionally genotyped and identified as G9P, were included. Whole-genome sequencing was then performed using the Illumina® MiSeq platform. Phylogenetic analysis and pair-wise sequence analysis were performed using MEGA6 software. Distinct clustering of three post-vaccination study strains was observed in all 11 gene segments, compared to the other Rwandan G9P study strains. Specific amino acid differences were identified across the gene segments of these three 2015 post-vaccine strains. Important amino acid differences were identified at position N242S in the VP7 genome segment of the three post-vaccine G9 strains compared to the other G9 strains. This substitution occurs at a neutralization epitope site and may slightly affect protein interaction at that position. These findings indicate that the Rwandan G9P strains revealed a distinct sub-clustering pattern among post-vaccination study strains circulating in Rwanda, with changes at neutralization epitopes, which may play a role in neutralization escape from vaccine candidates. This emphasizes the need for continuous whole-genome surveillance to better understand the evolution and epidemiology of the G9P strains post-vaccination.
- whole-genomic analysis