For the first time, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments are available for patients at Sanford Health.
The vaccine and treatment are the first ever to be approved for RSV by the Food & Drug Administration, and each is recommended for different subsets of patients.
The new vaccine, Abrysvo, is highly recommended between 32-36 weeks of pregnancy to help immunize babies against RSV for the first six months of their lives. The vaccine is also recommended for adults ages 60 and older who have weakened immune systems, chronic conditions such as heart or lung disease, or those who are living in a nursing home.
The antibody treatment, Beyfortus, is recommended for all infants under 8 months old born during RSV season or entering their first season. It’s also recommended for some older babies up to 19 months old who may be at increased risk of severe illness during their second RSV season. This treatment protects babies for 4-6 months.
The goal is to immunize all infants for RSV, but due to a nationwide shortage of Beyfortus, the CDC has advised that high-risk infants should be prioritized. A similar treatment for RSV, known as Synagis, is also available. Parents should talk with their child’s health care provider to determine which treatment is right for their child.
“Just like other vaccines, this antibody treatment and this vaccine are not 100% effective at preventing RSV, but what they really do well is decrease the severity of the illness. They’re known to cause a dramatic decrease in hospitalizations,” Dr. Hanson said.
Baby’s three trips to the hospital
One person who is familiar with RSV hospitalizations is Siri Thaden, a nursing manager at Sanford dermatology in Fargo. Last December, her son Ivar was hospitalized when he was just one month old after contracting RSV.
“He started with just some congestion and then I noticed he was not eating as well,” Thaden said. “When he started having fevers up to 105 degrees, that’s when I knew I had to bring him in.”
She brought Ivar to the emergency room, and after another day of labored breathing, he ended up in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“There is nothing scarier than when your child is struggling to breathe because you don’t have a lot you can do,” Thaden said. “They had him all hooked up to different things, putting high flow oxygen on him. But I knew we were in the place we needed to be.”
Ivar’s RSV led to bronchiolitis, an infection that causes swelling and mucus buildup in the smaller airways of the lung, which can be much more dangerous in infants.
“(Infants) have less ability to compensate,” said Dr. Hanson. “So if they get plugged up with mucus, it’s hard for them to eat. It’s hard for them to breathe. They get dehydrated. They really struggle.”
That wasn’t the end of the health scares for the Thaden family though. After five healthy months, Ivar once again contracted RSV in the spring, sending him to the hospital on Memorial Day weekend. Then it happened a third time in mid-June, when he spent five days at Sanford Children’s.
“I just really felt defeated as a mom,” Thaden said. “You just kind of ask yourself as a parent, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ To have so little control … it’s the worst feeling.”
Thaden says she’s thankful the new RSV treatment available, so that other babies can avoid what happened to Ivar.
“I am just so filled with hope and so grateful that is an option,” she said. “For me, seeing how devastating RSV was for my little boy … I don’t want that for any parent.”
Where to get RSV vaccine
RSV vaccines and antibody treatments are available at Sanford Health clinics near you.
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