COVID-19, Flu, and RSV – We’ve Got Vaccines for All Three! Part Three: Are RSV Vaccines and Treatments Right for Me?

November 1, 2023

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Before we know it, the holidays will be here. That means time spent celebrating with friends and family. It also means you need every tool in your arsenal to prevent contracting and spreading respiratory illnesses among those you love and celebrate with. Practicing preventive measures like eating well, hand-washing, and masking when you are sick are important, but don’t forget about vaccines. Before you start gift wrapping and holiday baking, make sure you and your family are up to date with COVID-19 and flu shots. There’s also a third option for some people to protect against RSV. 

Each year, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes more than 200,000 hospitalizations across the U.S. and over 10,000 deaths. RSV is very common. Infants, young children, and adults over 60 are most at risk for severe RSV illness. Today’s Team Vaccine Blog post – the last in our three-part series on the three big respiratory viral illnesses (COVID-19, flu, and RSV) – breaks down new vaccines and treatments for RSV and who should get them. 

Pregnant people now have the option to protect their unborn children from RSV with a vaccine.

Infants have immature immune systems and smaller airways that make it hard for them to fight respiratory illnesses like RSV. Thankfully, expecting parents can now breathe a sigh of relief, at least in regard to RSV. A new vaccine called Abrysvo was recently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to help provide immediate protection for newborns. This protection will last about six months. It is available to those who are 32-36 weeks pregnant and is administered seasonally from September to January. Abrysvo should be given at least 14 days prior to giving birth. If you are pregnant, talk to your medical provider to see if Abrysvo is right for you.

Children 19 months of age and younger can be immunized for RSV.

Nirsevimab (Beyfortus™) is a new treatment available for children. Nirsevimab is not a vaccine, but rather a monoclonal antibody treatment that provides temporary protection against RSV. It is given to infants younger than 8 months of age in one dose during the RSV season. It offers protection from RSV as soon as it is given. Protection will last for at least 5 months. Most children whose mother was vaccinated with Abrysvo while pregnant will not need to be treated with nirsevimab. Some children entering their second RSV season who are considered to be at increased risk for severe RSV illness will be eligible for a second dose of nirsevimab.

There has already been very high demand for nirsevimab which has unfortunately led to a shortage in its availability for the 2023-24 respiratory virus season. Because of this, the CDC issued an alert advising providers to prioritize the use of nirsevimab for children most at risk of contracting severe RSV. There is another option to protect young children from RSV: Palivizumab (Synagis®). Palivizumab is another monoclonal antibody treatment that has been in use since 1998. It is approved for children under 24 months who are at increased risk for RSV. Whereas nirsevimab is a one-time treatment, palivizumab is given once per month during the RSV season. Talk to your child’s medical provider about what treatments may be appropriate for them.

There are two new vaccines to protect adults 60 and older from RSV.

New this year, adults 60 and older can now be vaccinated for RSV. There are two vaccine options: Arexvy and Abrysvo. Both vaccines are more than 80% effective at preventing RSV infections. Even if you are otherwise healthy, you may be at increased risk for severe RSV simply based on your age. The immune system begins to decline around age 60 and is slower to respond to illness. But RSV vaccines are not right for everyone over 60. The CDC recommends RSV vaccines for this age group based on discussion with a medical provider. Talk to your doctor to see if an RSV vaccine is right for you.

The bottom line? We have more tools than ever to protect against RSV!

For most people, RSV infection will likely go unnoticed as a simple cold. For those most at risk, these new treatments and vaccines may help prevent them from being hospitalized and could even save their lives. These tools provide the opportunity for families to spend more time together and for young children to thrive and grow. Pregnant? Talk to your provider about getting Abrysvo between 32 and 36 weeks gestation. Have an infant child who isn’t protected from maternal RSV vaccination? Talk to their pediatrician to see if monoclonal antibody treatments are right for them. Over age 60? Speak to your provider about whether RSV vaccines are appropriate for you. In a season of respiratory threats from COVID-19, flu, and RSV – we’re lucky to have vaccines and treatments for all three!

Immunize Colorado was formed in 1991 in response to alarmingly low vaccination rates across the state. At the time, only about 50% of Colorado’s children were adequately vaccinated. A group of physicians and other concerned individuals came together to strategize how to protect Coloradans from vaccine-preventable diseases and increase vaccine uptake. Much work remains. You can donate or discover other ways to get involved in supporting our commitment to healthy Colorado communities today!

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