We’re deep in the middle of a Canadian winter which means it’s the time of year when almost everyone seems to be sick. COVID, RSV, flu, it’s hard to keep up, but we do have some good news about preventing respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in infants and older adults.

A new RSV vaccine called Abrysvo has been approved by Health Canada for people 60+ and pregnant women between 32 and 36 weeks gestation. There is as yet no approved vaccine for children or adults under 60 years of age. 

Abrysvo is the first RSV vaccine approved by Health Canada for pregnant women. It is designed to prevent lower respiratory tract disease and severe lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV in infants from birth through 6 months of age through immunization of pregnant women.

Arexvy, another RSV vaccine available in Canada for people over 60, is not approved for pregnant women and therefore cannot provide protection to infants.

Both vaccines are designed to work for two RSV seasons, so adults 60+ are advised to vaccinate every two years.

RSV in Infants

For infants, RSV infection can result in respiratory distress, especially in those less than six months of age, and those with higher risk factors such as congenital heart or lung disease, or prematurity.

Babies born to mothers who get an RSV vaccine at least 2 weeks before delivery will have protection and, in most cases, should not need an RSV immunization that season.

According to the CDC, vaccinating while pregnant can reduce a baby’s risk of being hospitalized from RSV by 57% in the first six months after birth.

“Vaccines administered through maternal immunization can also help play a critical role in decreasing the gap of vulnerability in the first few months of an infant’s life, as well as helping to protect their mothers, who may be at increased risk of severe disease compared with non-pregnant women,” said Dr. Darine El-Chaâr, Maternal Fetal Medicine physician at The Ottawa Hospital.

RSV in Adults 60+

RSV is a common respiratory virus that causes mild disease with cold-like symptoms. However, for immunocompromised adults or adults over 60 who suffer from asthma, diabetes or underlying respiratory or cardiac conditions, or who live in long-term care, RSV can be very serious.

A recent study by Yale University showed that vaccination of older adults would provide substantial direct health benefits by reducing negative outcomes associated with RSV-related illness and decreasing the burden of patients on the health-care system.

“RSV is a virus that we need to put a spotlight on. It spreads easily and it’s not something you can completely avoid,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, founder and CEO of CanAge. “Older adults living in congregate settings or long-term care, which is over 500,000 Canadians, have a higher risk of becoming infected with RSV. It’s important for all of us to be mindful of RSV prevention to help protect our loved ones and more vulnerable populations.”

RSV Vaccine Covered by Provincial Medicare?

Currently, Ontario is the only province that is publicly funding the RSV vaccine. It is funded only for Ontarians 60+ living in long-term care homes, and some elder care lodges and retirement homes licensed to provide dementia care services.

For now. the rest of the population will pay out-of-pocket for the single dose injection of either Abrysvo or Arexvy. Some private insurance plans may cover the cost, which comes in at around $300. In most provinces you will need a prescription. If you don’t have a family doctor, read this to find out how to get vaccinated.

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