State health authorities said this month They are confident that Alaska’s newly approved RSV protections could lead to significantly fewer hospitalizations for an upper respiratory illness that overwhelmed pediatric wards last winter.
Two new RSV vaccines for older adults and a new monoclonal antibody treatment that protects infants and young children from the disease will be available in the state as early as October, health officials said.
“We have the opportunity to have about 80% less RSV in infants in our hospitals and clinics this year,” said Dr. Liz Ohlsen, a senior medical officer with the Alaska Department of Health.
“This is the first time we have protection in the form of vaccinations against RSV,” said Sarah Aho, program manager of the state’s vaccination program. “It is wonderful.”
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an upper respiratory disease that can infect the lungs and cause difficulty breathing, as well as fever and cough. It can range from very mild to very severe and is the most common cause of hospitalization in infants in the United States
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease is often most severe in infants and children under 5, older adults, pregnant women and immunocompromised people.
Last year’s flu and RSV seasons were particularly bad nationwide and in Alaska, where hospitals reported full pediatric wards as the infectious diseases made their rounds in the fall and winter.
This year, RSV cases have been reported in the southeastern United States in recent weeks, but the disease has not yet spread in Alaska, Ohlsen said.
This year, two RSV vaccines were approved for adults 60 and older: Abrysvo and Arexvy. Aho and Ohlsen encouraged Alaskans in this age group to talk to their doctor about the benefits and risks of vaccination.
The Food and Drug Administration also approved Abrysvo in August for use in pregnant women to protect their infants from severe cases of RSV.
Nirsevimab, a monoclonal antibody designed to protect infants from RSV and sold under the brand name Beyfortus, was approved in July.
Aho described the antibody as a form of protection that prepares the body to recognize and attack the infection.
Statewide, RSV rates among children and young children are often highest in Western Alaska and other rural areas, where families often have more limited access to health care and must travel long distances for treatment, Ohlsen said.
The virus can also cause pneumonia, which can make older adults very sick.
The CDC estimates that RSV causes up to 80,000 hospitalizations and 300 deaths annually in children under 5 years of age in the United States and 160,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths in adults over 65 years of age.
The CDC has recommended that all infants under 8 months of age who were “born during or beginning their first RSV season” receive a single dose of treatment, while infants and children ages 8 months to 19 months who have an elevated If you are at risk of severe RSV disease, you should receive a dose before or during the second season.
The three new RSV vaccinations should be available to Alaska residents as early as next month, Aho said.
Aho and Ohlsen said that until this year, Alaska hospitals were not required to report RSV cases and hospitalizations to the state, meaning there is limited data here, especially recently, on the disease’s impact.
The state is now recording this data to better track where, when and how RSV is spreading, Aho said.
“Everyone felt like it was a big problem last winter, but we had no quantitative way to assess it,” Ohlsen said.
Despite a sharp decline in routine childhood vaccinations during the pandemic, which has been slow to recover, the state’s most recent vaccination data shows recent improvements in that rate, according to Aho. She hopes more families will choose to protect their young babies and children from RSV this fall.
The vaccines for older adults will be available “everywhere you can get a flu shot,” Aho said. For infants, the monoclonal antibodies will soon be available in clinics and pediatricians’ offices.
“October is the big push to get everyone we can vaccinated against RSV,” Ohlsen said, adding that this is also the month to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and flu.