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Q&A: Everything you need to know about the new pediatric RSV immunizations

by Scott Hesel, University of Rochester Medical Center

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major cause of illness in young children and is the leading reason why infants are hospitalized. Until recently, this viral infection was difficult to prevent or treat. Thanks to research advances, two new effective prevention methods are now available.

The first is nirsevimab, which is approved and recommended for infants 0–8 months old and select older infants with certain high risk conditions. The second is a new immunization available for pregnant patients, called Abrysvo, which leads to a 57% decrease in the chance of infant hospitalization due to RSV.

Availability of nirsevimab is limited, and newborn children staying in NICUs currently have priority for receiving the immunization. Abrysvo is more widely available at obstetrician offices and local Walgreens pharmacies.

How do these immunizations work, and are they safe and effective? Two infectious diseases experts, Mary Caserta, MD and Jennifer Nayak, MD provide insight on how they will benefit newborns.

What is this new RSV immunization nirsevimab and who is it for?

Nirsevimab has been in development for several years and was created specifically for newborns aged 0–8 months and select older infants at risk for severe disease from RSV. Unlike traditional vaccines that stimulate immune memory and “train” your body to recognize RSV, nirsevimab provides antibodies directly to fight the virus. While a traditional vaccine provides a cook book-like recipe that the body uses to build immunity over several weeks to fight RSV, nirsevimab is ready to fight RSV as soon as its given.

Fortunately, because it is active immediately, nirsevimab given to newborns provides protection against RSV at the ages that children are most at risk for severe disease (0–8 months). In fact, nirsevimab has been shown to decrease the risk of RSV-related hospitalization and avoid the disruption to a family’s routine that a hospitalization causes.

In addition to babies 0–8 months during their first RSV season, children from 8–24 months old who are at high risk for RSV infection may be eligible to receive nirsevimab during their second RSV season. For more information, contact a health care provider.

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