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New RSV vaccine recommended for infants and older adults

on November 7, 2023

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a new recommendation for infants and people above the age of 60 to receive a single-dose of the RSV vaccine, which was approved earlier this year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

The CDC, in a September health advisory, found that the respiratory syncytial virus was spreading in the southeastern part of the country. Cases have steadily increased in California in October and November. The risk of infection from RSV, influenza and COVID-19 typically peaks in the fall and winter. And this is the first season where vaccines are available for all of these illnesses.  

Health officials are worried about a tripledemic, which could occur if all three infections peak at the same time. A report released by the California Department of Public Health last month showed RSV activity, along with flu and COVID-19 increasing in the state.

Dr. Meera Sreenivasan, deputy health officer at Contra Costa Health said that limited research is available to understand the consequences of a tripledemic. While the potential severity of flu and COVID-19 is well-known, RSV may be unfamiliar to many.

“I think that the American public does not appreciate how serious RSV can be for certain populations,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. 

CDC data shows that RSV kills 100 to 300 children under the age of 5 each year in the U.S. and 6,000 to 10,000 adults over the age of 65. That makes it the leading cause of hospitalization among infants in the country, with 58,000 to 80,000 cases annually. 

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Swartzberg said the same things that offer protection against COVID-19, such as wearing masks and social distancing, offer protection against RSV.

One main difference between the two, however, is that RSV isn’t just airborne — it can spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. Distancing yourself from people with respiratory infections, washing your hands and avoiding touching your face can reduce the risk.

In May, the FDA approved the first RSV vaccine for adults over 60. In the following month, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that adults in that age group consult with their health care providers about getting vaccinated. 

In August, Pfizer’s vaccine — Abrysvo – for protecting newborns against RSV got the green light as well. The CDC’s recommendation is for expectant mothers to receive this vaccine in their third trimester to protect newborns for six months after delivery.

In older adults, particularly those with heart or lung disease and other chronic conditions, RSV can lead to severe pneumonia.

“Ongoing clinical trials are evaluating the use of RSV vaccines in younger adults and other age groups,” said Diya Surie, a CDC epidemiologist. 

According to the CDC, symptoms of the virus typically appear four to six days after exposure and include sneezing, runny nose, fever, wheezing, coughing and a decrease in appetite. 

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