New vaccine shows potential to help prevent RSV in babies

Vaccine contains antibodies that seeks out Respiratory Syncytial Virus

A new vaccine for babies is a shot to prevent a deadly virus. It’s not for Covid but instead a viral infection that has plagued babies for decades. Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, takes their breath away and up until now all doctors could do was wait for them to get better. Now they have a shot a stopping this infection before it ever begins.

When Covid was at its height, Devin Lindsey knew she couldn’t get her baby Cameron vaccinated. But she does know the importance of inoculations against disease.

“Any way I can protect her as a parent, from Covid, from RSV, I get all the vaccinations my doctor recommends for her age,” Lindsey said.

So she enrolled in a trial at Lurie Children’s Hospital, testing a drug to fight RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, an infectious illness that attacks the respiratory tract.

Dr Bill Muller is an infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

“For little babies particularly under age 1 it can be a big problem. It can cause them to get an pneumonia, have difficulty breathing, have difficulty maintaining appropriate oxygen levels,” he said. “And we don’t really have any great treatments for it. We provide oxygen. We provide IV fluids and suctioning. And they really have to recover on their own.”

That is frightening for doctors and parents.

“It’s a pretty dangerous, scary virus from what I’ve heard so I’m happy I could protect Cameron,” Lindsey said.

“Every pediatrician who has trained in my lifetime has experienced multiple babies being in the hospital during RSV season for whom all we can offer are oxygen, IV fluids and suction,” Muller said. “And we completely relate to the frustration parents feel when they see their child struggling to breathe and we don’t have any medicines to give them.”

Until now. A monoclonal antibody called nirsevimab could serve as a new vaccine.

“This is an intramuscular injection. So it is very similar to the way vaccines are administered right now,” Mueller said.

But it works differently. Instead of kicking the body’s own immune system into gear to fight infection, it injects antibodies that immediately seek out any circulating RSV.

“It can bind to it and prevent it from infecting cells and getting into the tissues of your body to cause disease,” Mueller said.

And it lasts.

“It circulates in your body longer so a single dose can provide protection for the entire RSV season,” he said.

Administered in November it will carry babies through the spring when RSV wanes and they are naturally bigger and stronger.

“For most children including toddler and school age, it just causes a cold and they will have a runny nose and a little bit of a cough,” Mueller said. “And most of the time they don’t feel very sick. … So having this preventive option I think is a real major advance in pediatric health.”

Cameron is close to the stage where natural protection kicks in.

But Lindsey said she was happy for the protection at a time her baby needed it.

“For any moms or parents out there, do your research, but then ultimately trust your medical professionals and do what is best for your family,” she said.

More than 2 million children suffer with RSV each season with nearly 60,000 babies hospitalized. The RSV vaccine still needs FDA approval so it will likely be available in the 2022-2023 RSV season.

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