YOUR HEALTH: Lifesaving RSV vaccine approved for seniors

After decades of testing and tweaking, researchers have developed – and the FDA has approved – a vaccine for RSV for the first time.
Published: Oct. 13, 2023 at 9:15 AM CDT
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - RSV is a respiratory disease most people think is only dangerous for babies, but it actually can be life-threatening for older people as well. After decades of testing and tweaking, researchers have developed – and the FDA has approved – a vaccine for this sometimes deadly virus.

“RSV vaccine has been six decades in the making, and it was pretty groundbreaking,” said Dr. Shalika Katugaha, an infectious disease expert at Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Fla.

Now, for the first time, a vaccine is approved for adults 60 and older.

RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus, mimics the common cold but can turn into pneumonia. Infectious disease experts say babies, older people, and anyone with a compromised immune system are at risk.

“RSV is transmitted when someone coughs or sneezes, and then another common way that people do get it, especially these older adults, is direct contact with the virus, which actually means kissing their grandchild and getting it from them exactly that way,” explained Dr. Katugaha.

Severe cases of RSV can be deadly.

“It’s, in fact, responsible for around 10,000 deaths in people over 60 and in 60,000 to 160,000 hospitalizations in this age group,” Dr. Katugaha added.

To date, two vaccines have FDA approval – the first made by GSK – the brand name is Arexvy, and the second was created by Pfizer. In clinical trials, the new RSV vaccine showed that the once-a-year shot lowered the risk of symptoms by 83 percent and severe illness by 94 percent.

“They are not live shots and so, they should be fine for anyone over 60 to get,” said Dr. Katugaha.

But with many older adults already on their fifth or sixth COVID vaccine and booster, combined with the flu and shingles vaccines – is that too many vaccines for our body to handle?

“Your body does not get too many vaccines. In fact, vaccines are our strength and our armor; they’re what protect us,” said Dr. Katugaha.

The goal is to have the vaccine available by fall, in time for the next RSV season, which usually peaks between December and February. And doctors warn, there is no treatment for RSV, so prevention is key. The vaccine is not yet approved for children or infants, but researchers hope that getting it to the older population first will pave the way for clinical trials for infants and children. The vaccine will be similar to the flu vaccine and it appears to last one year.

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