Three new shots for respiratory syncytial virus have been approved or are on the horizon for Canada, which could mean a sea change in the toll RSV takes on the very young and very old – if the shots were widely and freely available in this country.
But it appears that won’t be the case for the coming viral respiratory season.
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, burst into public consciousness last fall as one of the three viruses behind a “tripledemic” that overwhelmed hospitals, particularly in the pediatric sector. Unlike for influenza and COVID-19, there was until recently no vaccine to counter RSV.
Now there are three new interventions designed to take the sting out of RSV: a once-a-season monoclonal antibody that provides passive immunity to babies, which Health Canada approved in April; a vaccine for people 60 and older, which Health Canada authorized last month; and a vaccine for pregnant women, which Canadian regulators are still reviewing but which the United States Food and Drug Administration greenlit on Aug. 21.
The purpose of vaccinating women against RSV late in pregnancy is to provide antibodies to their newborns, who risk developing complications such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis if they contract RSV.
Last year, “was a really, really heavy RSV season,” said Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Montreal Children’s Hospital. “But the truth is, year in and year out, we deal with an influx of patients due to RSV in the winter months.”
That means deploying shots to blunt the impact of RSV would be, in Dr. Papenburg’s words, “huge.”
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