By Erwin Walters, RPh
Earlier this month, Health Canada approved a new vaccine for seniors. It garnered a lot of media attention at the time, but mostly, people don’t know much about RSV. Here’s what you need to know.
What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, for short) is a common respiratory virus. Like colds and flu, RSV occurs seasonally from October to May. The virus is highly contagious, yet typically causes only mild upper respiratory symptoms, similar to the common cold. Where RSV differs is that it can cause lower respiratory tract infections, such as bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways of the lungs). These infections can be severe in the very young, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised. Older adults are at greater risk partly due to a natural decline in immune function with age. As well, medical conditions such as COPD, asthma, diabetes, and congestive heart failure can be worsened by RSV, leading to severe outcomes. People of any age can be infected and it’s possible to get repeat infections, though reinfection is usually less severe.
What do we know about the vaccine?
The vaccine is called Arexvy. It has been approved for prevention of lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV in individuals aged 60 and older. Arexvy is a protein subunit vaccine with an adjuvant, which helps to stimulate a stronger immune response. It is given as a single dose, though it is not yet known if a booster dose may be needed.
The vaccine was studied in almost 25,000 people and seems to have been well tolerated. The most commonly reported adverse reactions are similar to those of other vaccines: injection site pain, fatigue, muscle aches, and headache, though these were all said to be mild and short-lived. The clinical trials report that, compared to placebo, one dose reduced the risk of RSV lung infections by almost 83% — and even more so for severe infections in individuals at higher risk.
Who should get it?
According to GSK’s press release, Arexvy is expected to be available in Canada ahead of the 2023/24 peak RSV season. However, each province will determine whether they feel it is necessary for some or all seniors. If vaccine supply is limited, the vaccine could be reserved for high-risk individuals and those living in long-term care. Each province will also need to decide if the vaccine cost will be covered by Public Health or charged to the patient.
Please speak with one of our pharmacists if you have further questions about Arexvy or RSV.