A spike in the respiratory infection, commonly known as RSV, has left pediatric units across the country overwhelmed. Thankfully, according to clinical trial data published Tuesday, Pfizer’s vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus is highly effective at protecting newborns when the shot is given to pregnant people in their late second or third trimester.
In the first 90 days of the baby’s life, Pfizer’s vaccine was 81% effective at preventing severe lower respiratory tract illnesses that require hospitalization or assisted breathing, according to the company’s data. The company hopes to receive Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the vaccine by the end of 2022. If approved, it could be the first vaccine available to help prevent this common and sometimes life-threatening respiratory virus.
“We are thrilled by these data as this is the first-ever investigational vaccine shown to help protect newborns against severe RSV-related respiratory illness immediately at birth,” Annaliesa Anderson, Ph.D., Pfizer’s chief scientific officer of vaccine research & development, said in a statement.
The new preventative treatment comes at a time when it’s much needed. RSV cases are on the rise and doctors are saying that the lifting of COVID precautions may have caused it, per the New York Times. “It all has a very Covid-esque feel to it,” Meghan Bernier, MD, the medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, told the Times. “This is the pediatrician’s Covid. This is our March 2020.”
With the illness is currently surging, knowing what to look out for can save a life. Keep reading to learn more about how to prevent the virus and how to treat it.
What Is Respiratory Syncytial Virus?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that can cause mild, cold-like symptoms. The recovery time is typically a week or two and most infants will get it before the age of 2, per the CDC. But certain children are more likely to develop severe symptoms. In typically healthy adults, for example, RSV might look like a nasty cold, but for premature infants it can be a serious threat.
In high-risk babies — such as babies born prematurely, children under 2 born with heart or lung disease, infants with weakened immune systems, and children 8-10 weeks old — RSV can become a much more serious infection. Symptoms of RSV can include wheezing or difficulty breathing, decreased or no appetite, decreased fluid intake, sneezing and coughing, runny nose, and fever, according to the CDC. Severe cases of RSV can cause bronchiolitis or pneumonia, and require oxygen and intubation.
How Is Respiratory Syncytial Virus Prevented?
Like with the common cold or COVID-19, washing your hands is an essential preventative measure, according to the Mayo Clinic. Avoiding exposure, keeping things clean by disinfecting surfaces, refraining from sharing glasses, and washing toys regularly are also listed as best practices. The Mayo Clinic also encourages parents not to smoke, as “babies who are exposed to tobacco smoke have a higher risk of getting RSV and potentially more-severe symptoms.” If you do smoke, it’s advised that you do it away from your baby — never in the house or car.
There’s also a protective medication available, called palivizumab (Synagis). It’s given in the form of a shot and designed for children under 2 who are at high risk of serious complications from RSV. Pfizer has also developed a vaccine to protect against RSV and plans to submit the candidate to the FDA for approval. The single-dose would be given to pregnant people in their late second or third trimester, and protect newborns from the virus throughout their first six months of life.
If an infant has symptoms of a cold that aren’t improving, take them to the doctor immediately.
How Is Respiratory Syncytial Virus Treated?
Most RSV infections go away on their own in less than two weeks, the CDC says. There’s no current treatment plan to fight the infection, but for adults, you can relieve symptoms by drinking fluids to prevent dehydration and taking over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers. For children, talk to your child’s healthcare provider first before giving them nonprescription cold medicines, and never give aspirin to children. In more severe cases when there is difficulty breathing, go to the hospital immediately. Oxygen or intubation may be necessary.