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RSV Vaccines for Older Adults Should Be Here by the Fall

The CDC's advisory committee recommended this month that adults over 60 can receive one of two RSV vaccines, setting the stage for wide distribution this year.

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Vaccines for a common but sometimes dangerous virus are well on the way to reaching the public. This month, outside experts assembled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave their blessing to two vaccines developed against the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. The vaccines, approved for older adults, are expected to be available in the U.S. by this fall.

RSV often causes little more than a common cold. But the infection can occasionally reach the lower respiratory tract and cause severe, even life-threatening complications like pneumonia and bronchiolitis. Severe RSV infection is more likely to happen in very young children and older adults. Up to 160,000 Americans over 65 are thought to be hospitalized by RSV annually, while up to 10,000 are killed by it.


In early May, the Food and Drug Administration approved the world’s first RSV vaccine, Arexvy, which was developed by GlaxoSmithKline. Later that month, it approved a RSV vaccine developed by Pfizer, called Abryso. Both vaccines are approved to prevent lower tract disease from RSV infection in adults over 60.


Vaccines in the U.S. must be given the go-ahead by both the FDA and CDC before they can be widely administered to the public, however. The CDC relies on the guidance of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to decide who exactly should be recommended to receive new vaccines or to change the scheduling of existing vaccines. These recommendations are also used by government programs like Medicare and private insurers to determine their coverage of specific vaccines.


Late last week, the ACIP voted by a 9 to 5 count that adults over 65 may receive either of the single-dose RSV vaccines. By a wide majority, it also voted that adults between the ages of 60 to 65 can receive these vaccines on a case-by-case basis, as determined by the patients and their doctors.

In large clinical trials, these vaccines were found to be over 80% effective at preventing lower tract disease from RSV infection, and even more effective at preventing severe complications from these infections. More recent data from GSK and Pfizer has found that the protection afforded by their vaccines can last through at least two RSV seasons, which tends to be most common in the winter, though with some decline.


The ACIP’s recommendations are rarely not followed by the CDC, but outgoing CDC chief Rochelle Walensky will still have to formally endorse the vaccines before the end of her tenure this month. Both companies have said that they expect their vaccine supply will be up and running by the fall. Pfizer is also expected to receive approval for their maternal RSV vaccine later this summer, and Moderna’s adult RSV vaccine may secure approval early next year.