RSV may be just a cold for most people who get it, but it can be life-threatening to babies. Fortunately, we now have an immunization that can protect little ones, and the CDC’s advisory panel recommended that all infants younger than 8 months get a dose of it at the beginning of RSV season (usually in the fall—so similar timing as a flu shot). Here’s what you need to know about the new vaccine.
What is RSV again?
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RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, causes cold-like symptoms like a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing. For many people, that’s as far as it goes; you may have had RSV and not even known it.
But the virus can become life-threatening for older adults and for people who are immunocompromised. It’s also especially dangerous to babies, especially preemies and infants under 6 months old. (This past winter saw a surge in RSV cases, and we have an explainer about the virus and its surge here.)
What is the new RSV vaccine for babies, exactly?
The RSV vaccine for babies is actually a monoclonal antibody called nersevimab (brand name Beyfortus), and it provides protection for several months. Most vaccines trigger your body to produce its own antibodies, but this one just delivers the antibodies themselves.
This is the first “passive” vaccine on the childhood vaccine schedule (passive immunity means that the baby’s immune system doesn’t have to do anything). Babies already get passive immunity to some illnesses from antibodies they receive through breastfeeding and from placental blood before birth. It’s not new and different for babies to get antibodies passively; this is just the first time they have been able to be administered as a routine vaccine.
Antibodies are more expensive than most vaccines, but vaccines on the standard childhood schedule are required to be covered by insurance plans. If your child is uninsured, or if their insurance doesn’t cover vaccines for some reason, they can still get their vaccines (including RSV) for free through the government’s Vaccines for Children program. The program also provides free vaccines for children who are Medicaid-eligible or who are American Indian or Alaskan Native.
CNN reports the vaccine will cost insurers $495, and the Vaccines for Children program will pay a lower price of $395. The out-of-pocket cost to parents is $0.
Who should get the new infant RSV vaccine?
The vaccine is recommended for all children under 8 months old who are either born in RSV season, or who are still under 8 months old when RSV season begins. (The season may occur at different times depending on the year and your location, but in general runs from roughly October to March.) The vaccine is expected to be available in time for RSV season this year.
Some children between 8 and 19 months should still get a dose of the vaccine the following year if they are at high risk for complications—for example, children who are severely immunocompromised.
For adults, two vaccines for RSV were also approved earlier this year for people over age 60. In announcing that vaccine, the CDC noted that people who may want to get it include “adults with chronic heart or lung disease, adults with weakened immune systems, and adults living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities.”