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New Vaccines Offer Protection Against Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Proud Grandfather Cuddling Baby Grandson In Nursery At Home

Now that fall is here, there are lots of fun things to enjoy, like corn mazes, pumpkin patches, and football. But there’s one thing about fall that no one looks forward to ― it’s the start of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season. And if you’re an older adult, pregnant, or the parent of an infant, the threat of RSV is real.

The good news is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved three new vaccines to help reduce the risk of RSV in these vulnerable populations.

What is RSV?

RSV is a common, highly contagious virus that causes cold-like symptoms. By the time most children are two years of age, they’ve already had RSV at least once. Luckily, most children recover easily.

But preterm infants and young children with weakened immune systems are at high risk for developing serious complications from RSV. About 58,000 children are hospitalized every year with RSV, and it is the leading cause of hospitalization in infants.

Although RSV is typically a childhood disease, we are now starting to see it more frequently in older adults. In 2022, an estimated 160,000 older adults were hospitalized with complications from RSV. People with chronic conditions like congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are at highest risk for hospitalization. And in this population, a person can be contagious for weeks, even if they no longer have symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of RSV include cough, fever, runny nose, loss of appetite, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms typically last about a week.

In severe cases, the virus can cause lung infections that reduce the amount of oxygen circulating in the body, making it hard to breathe. In rare instances, the skin or fingernail beds may start to turn blue. These symptoms require immediate medical attention.

Real Mom Talk

As a parent and a doctor, I’m always interested in hearing other parents’ health care experiences. During the development of this blog, all of my colleagues on the planning call shared a personal RSV story. That’s how common RSV is.

When my children were younger, the only FDA-approved prevention against RSV was a drug called Synagis®. But Synagis is only given to infants who are born preterm or who have a chronic health condition. My children didn’t qualify for Synagis, so we followed the usual preventive measures against RSV, like good handwashing and frequently disinfecting the surfaces in our home.

Despite our best efforts, the children caught RSV. And when they had trouble breathing, we ended up in the emergency room. Luckily, they were treated and sent home the same day. I wish a vaccine was available to them when they were little!

One of my colleagues said that watching her young son’s chest rise and fall as he struggled to breathe when he had RSV was “scary and heartbreaking.” She said she could still see it in her mind, even though it happened many years ago. Her son had to be hospitalized for two weeks because of his complications.

RSV also creates struggles for parents who entrust their children’s care to an older adult. Another colleague said she worries every fall and winter that her young daughters will catch RSV and pass it to their grandmom, who is their part-time caregiver.

RSV vaccines significantly reduce the likelihood of severe complications and hospitalization for people in these high-risk groups. This can keep families healthier and give them peace of mind.

Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

The new RSV vaccines are:

BeyfortusTM (nirsevimab-alip)

  • Approved for all infants during their first two RSV seasons

AbrysvoTM (respiratory syncytial virus vaccine)

  • Approved for all adults 60 years of age and older
  • Approved for all pregnant individuals, at 34 – 36 weeks’ gestation, to prevent RSV in infants for up to 6 months after birth

ArexvyTM (respiratory syncytial virus vaccine, adjuvanted)

  • Approved for all adults 60 years of age and older

Talk to your doctor about the risk of RSV. They can let you know if you or a loved one could benefit from vaccination. They can also help you schedule your vaccine.

Dr. Reetika Kumar

Dr. Reetika Kumar has served as medical director and vice president of Clinical Services at Independence Health Group since 2017. Her expertise and commitment to improving the health of our members is focused on proven practices, evidenced-based medicine, and cost-effective health care delivery. Reetika is a mom of two amazing kids and stays active during the pandemic with the Peloton Female Physicians group.