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As many Americans are making plans for their annual flu shot or updated COVID-19 booster due out later this month, Dr. Danny Branstetter, medical director of infectious diseases and infection prevention at Wellstar Health System, says RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, should also be on our radar screen.
RSV is typically mild, causing cold-like symptoms that tend to resolve on their own without requiring medical treatment.
But the virus can be more severe in very young children and older adults, causing lower respiratory complications like pneumonia and bronchiolitis.
And Branstetter says RSV season typically heats up before flu season begins, in the late summer and early fall as children head back to school and daycare.
“So, right now is the time to start considering RSV as your first vaccine of those vaccines for your respiratory tract illness this fall,” Branstetter says.
This summer the FDA approved RSV vaccines for the first time and a new monoclonal antibody designed to protect young children from complications of the virus.
For adults age 60 and up, the FDA has approved two RSV vaccines, Arexvy and Abrysvo.
In clinical studies Arexvy cut the risk of lower respiratory disease by 83% and Abrysvo by 89% when compared to placebos.
CDC has recommended the vaccines, and is advising adults 60 and older to talk to their healthcare providers about whether to get vaccinated.
“Those are also a single vaccine dose, and they can be given during and with the other vaccines,” Dr. Branstetter says. “So it can be simultaneously administered with other vaccines.”
If you are pregnant, the FDA has approved one of those two vaccines for seniors, Abrysvo, for use during pregnancy.
The goal is to help pregnant individuals produce antibodies they can be passed on to newborns, protecting them from RSV in their first six months, when they are most vulnerable to complications of the virus.
The vaccine is authorized to be given between 32 and 36 weeks gestation.
In research studies, the vaccine cut the risk of lower respiratory disease by 82% in the babies in their first 3 months of live, and by 69% in first 6 months of life.
The CDC still has to recommend vaccine for this group.
“We know, traditionally, that pregnant women have a lower uptake than traditional vaccines in the same age group, and I anticipate there’ll be some reservations around a new vaccine for that age and population group as well,” Dr. Branstetter says.
There’s also a new monoclonal antibody designed to help babies and higher-risk toddlers fight off RSV.
The drug, Beyfortus, is give in a single-dose injection.
It is approved for use in infants 8 months and younger who are going into their first RSV season and toddlers 8 to 19 months at higher risk of severe RSV complications entering their second RSV season.
The CDC has recommended the monoclonal antibody for this age group.
Dr. Branstetter says talk to your child’s pediatrician about whether the drug is good fit for your child.