Through the last winter season, a surge of infections due to the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was witnessed among young children in New Hampshire hospitals. The promise of new vaccines seems to generate renewed optimism among healthcare workers and state officials, as myriad preparations get underway for the cold-weather viral onslaught. Patricia Tilley, esteemed director of New Hampshire’s Division of Public Health Services, shared that the safe and updated vaccines now available are set to shield against all three key respiratory illnesses that occur during the fall and winter – COVID-19, flu, and RSV.
Introducing RSV, it’s a virus that makes its presence felt every autumn season, inducing a mild cold in most carriers. However, it poses a significantly elevated risk for infants and the elderly. It dominates as the primary reason behind hospitalizations among infants in the U.S.
In an encouraging development this year, federal regulators have greenlighted the maiden RSV vaccines for individuals above 60. Consequently, pregnant individuals can benefit from vaccinations between the 32nd and 37th weeks of their pregnancy stint to ensure their offspring is guarded against RSV after birth.
Additionally, a novel monoclonal antibody design meant for infants up to eight months and children up to 19 months, who have a heightened likelihood of developing a severe form of the disease, has been launched. This shot improves the immunity against RSV via a method tagged as ‘passive immunization.’ Essentially, it supplies virus-combatting antibodies to the body proactively rather than stimulating the body into generating its antibodies, akin to a conventional vaccine’s working mechanism.
Martha Wassell, who helms the infection prevention division at the Wentworth-Douglass Hospital located in Dover, stressed that older children generally possess a certain level of RSV immunity, fostered by exposure in a previous season. However, she underscores that the advent of the new vaccines could have a transformational impact on the youngest ones. Wassell cited the prevalence of hundreds of RSV-associated fatalities within this age group in the U.S. every year and pointed out that this grave situation can now be prevented with the new vaccines.
Urging new and expecting parents to discuss their options with their doctors, Dr. Michael McLeod – the associate chief clinical officer for Concord Hospital Primary Care – mentioned that it’s equally critical for older adults to realize the importance of getting vaccinated against RSV. With up to 10,000 RSV-related deaths among adults above 65 every year, a precautionary vaccine represents an essential resource in curbing the disease. The CDC advice is for individuals above 60 to determine the right course of action vis-a-vis the RSV vaccine in conjunction with their doctors. Key considerations can include underlying health conditions and other relevant factors.
Insurance bigwigs such as Aetna, Harvard Pilgrim, and UnitedHealthcare have revealed they will fully cover RSV vaccines and associated antibody treatments as part of preventive care. The same applies to New Hampshire Medicaid. With the provision of RSV vaccines now enabled at many pharmacies across the state, residents should proactively seek advice from their healthcare providers at the earliest opportunity. Given we are already in this year’s viral respiratory season, Wassell advocates against any delay in obtaining the appropriate vaccine.