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There are two new vaccines that can protect people against RSV. zoranm/Getty Images
  • The CDC has recommended two new vaccines, the first of their kind, to combat RSV in those 60+
  • The vaccines are slated to be available this fall.
  • Experts say this vaccine opens up more preventative options as RSV has become a larger part of the medical conversation.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that they are recommending two new vaccines, produced by pharmaceutical companies GSK and Pfizer, to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The CDC now recommends adults over age 60 should discuss getting one dose of the RSV vaccine to protect against severe illness.

The vaccines received FDA approval in May, setting the stage for the CDC’s suggestion this month.

Dr. Naomi Jean-Baptiste, an emergency medicine physician in Orlando says that the continued focus the medical and research communities have on RSV stems from the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I honestly think this really stems from what happened last year, where we were having this trifecta of people getting hospitalized with COVID, flu and RSV. And I think that’s where RSV really came to the forefront, because we’re seeing so many hospitalizations”

RSV is a common respiratory disease that causes common cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a few days to weeks, but in some cases, the disease can result in serious or even fatal symptoms.

The CDC estimates that between 60,000 and 160,000 adults ages 65 and older end up in the hospital each year due to RSV. An estimated 6 to 10,000 deaths among this age group are linked to the disease every year.

Children in infancy and older adults are among the most at risk for serious symptoms.

According to Joyce Baker, a long-time registered respiratory therapist and member of American Association for Respiratory Care, these vaccines could help protect older adults.

“Having the vaccine, I think, will hopefully alleviate some of the fear for some of those individuals who are at risk, particularly our older population,” Baker told Healthline.

The CDC says that those considered at the most risk include those with heart and lung disease, those who are immunocompromised and those in long term care facilities or nursing homes.

Baker says that one concern surrounding RSV in the last year was that it bucked typical seasonal trends.

“It normally starts in January, and it started in [the previous] September, and then ran clear through the first part of the year. It just created a lot of challenges around workforce limitations, and then hospital resources.”

Baker said that the vaccine will hopefully help tamper the RSV surges that occurred as COVID-19 precautions ended.

“Because we were all taking protective measures during COVID, mask wearing, being really diligent washing our hands, staying away from people who were sick, not going around anybody if you’re sick, that kind of helped decrease, not only RSV, but also other viruses,” Baker said. And so now that we’re all back to being unmasked, maybe not as diligent in washing our hands, and certainly not having six feet social distancing, that [is why] we’re seeing these surges in viruses such as RSV.

Jean-Baptiste says that COVID-19 has also put a spotlight on how many people can be at risk for severe respiratory infections even if they are not in infancy or old age.

“It is a virus that causes a common cold. And historically, before COVID time, we were primarily concerned with RSV at the two ends of life. In infancy, when you’re first born, and then in old age, usually older than 60,” Jean-Baptiste said.

With these vaccines not being available until the fall, and RSV still being a concern for older adults, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself and identify the symptoms of a severe case.

Jean-Baptiste suggests older adults have a pulse oximeter close by to measure their oxygen levels. She says that any persistent dip below 94% in an adult should be reason to seek medical advice.

Baker says that older adults should keep an eye out for symptoms, including trouble breathing, that are out of the ordinary for them.

“I think the big symptoms are: if they’re starting to have shortness of breath, wheezing, difficulty walking short distances which is not normal for them, that they really need to consult their primary doctor or be seen in the emergency department.”

Baker said there is no cure for the disease, instead healthcare providers will provide supportive treatment.

“If you are elderly and frail, or have chronic conditions that make you immunocompromised so that viruses can actually cause more damage than it would in somebody who is healthy. RSV can cause you to get hospitalized, but the treatment is still the same. It’s not a bacterial infection. There’s no antibiotics for viral infection, but it’s really just supporting you through this process.”