RSV Vaccine for Seniors Receives Priority Status

As seniors face a triple threat from influenza, coronavirus and RSV(respiratory syncytial virus) this season, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on December 7 it will give an experimental vaccine for RSV in people over 60 a fast-track status.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults, especially those over 65 or who have chronic heart or lung disease or a weakened immune system are at a higher risk for severe RSV infection. 

Each year an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 older Americans are hospitalized due to RSV infection and between 6,000 and 10,000 die from serious RSV complications including pneumonia, congestive heart failure and severe symptoms of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that impair breathing. 

By expediting the license application by four months, the FDA will be able to make a decision on whether or not to approve the Pfizer vaccine by May 2023.  If approved, it will be the first U.S. RSV vaccine available.  Pfizer’s trial vaccine has been found to be 86 percent effective in preventing severe lower respiratory tract illness and about 67 percent effective at preventing milder lower respiratory tract illness.

This winter, however, older adults remain at risk for RSV infection and serious symptoms that may require hospitalization.  RSV circulation peaks in the winter months – those who are at greater risk for severe infection, and people who interact regularly with older adults should take precautions to stay healthy.   Wash hands often, keep your hands away from your face, avoid close contact with people who are sick, cover your coughs and sneezes and keep high-tough surfaces clean and disinfected frequently.  Stay home from work, school, and public areas when you are sick to prevent the spread of illness.

During the COVID pandemic, RSV cases were very low due to social distancing and the wearing of masks to prevent transmission.  With a resulting lower immunity, more people this fall have contracted RSV, and according to a recent CNBC report, seniors have been hospitalized with RSV at 10 times the rate seen in 2018 to 2019 – the last full season before the pandemic.

The CDC is encouraging people to wear masks over the holidays to help prevent the spread of COVID, influenza, and RSV which can cause serious illness in the most vulnerable populations and place a heavy burden on hospitals and health systems.