Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common viral infection that may lead to serious complications in certain groups. While there’s currently no RSV vaccine, there’s a good chance there will be one available soon.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus that causes mild to severe respiratory infections. It’s primarily known for causing symptoms similar to the common cold, such as a runny nose and cough.

Most children and adults recover within 1 to 2 weeks, but certain groups are considered to be at a higher risk for severe illness. RSV is also the most common cause of lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

RSV garnered a lot more attention during the 2022–2023 flu season, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an unusual increase in both infections and hospitalizations from the virus.

While often associated with infants and young children, RSV can impact adults, too. Older adults, as well as those with chronic illnesses and weakened immune systems, are especially vulnerable to complications from this virus.

In fact, the CDC reports that 60,000 to 120,000 older adults are hospitalized with RSV infections every year, and 6,000 to 10,000 cases are fatal.

Due to such risks, the need for an RSV vaccine is arguably more important than ever. Here’s what you need to know about a potential vaccine for RSV, including what the latest research shows.

Currently, there’s no vaccine available to protect against RSV. However, numerous vaccine candidates are either in various clinical trial phases or are under formal review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to one 2022 review, there are multiple RSV vaccines in phase 3 trials for older adults, as well as for pregnant people. At least one type has been submitted for FDA approval, which highlights the efficacy found during clinical trials.

Another 2022 study on RSV vaccines noted that one specific type called prefusion F (RSVpreF) was effective in reducing viral shedding as well as preventing symptomatic infection. This particular study was funded by Pfizer.

A 2022 study estimated that an RSV vaccine could potentially prevent 8,000 to 14,900 related deaths every season, while also preventing between 43,700 and 81,500 hospitalizations.

RSV vaccine development first began in the 1960s but was halted due to serious lung complications.

However, technological advances coupled with a better understanding of the virus have led to multiple vaccine candidates. Many of these are currently in clinical trials, with some vaccines potentially being available at some point in 2023.

For example, the FDA accepted an application from Pfizer for their RSVpreF vaccine at the end of 2022, which the agency is currently reviewing. If approved, this vaccine could be administered to people over the age of 60 to help prevent RSV-related lower respiratory infections.

Moderna and GSK have also announced promising results from clinical trials and could soon have vaccines available.

RSV is a known cause of severe infections and possible hospitalization in older adults. If you’re age 65 or older, you may consider talking with a doctor about the RSV vaccine once it becomes available.

Additionally, you may consider getting an RSV vaccine if you have an underlying medical condition that increases your risk for severe disease from RSV infection.

These include:

  • lung diseases, such as asthma or COPD
  • heart or circulatory conditions, including congestive heart failure
  • cancer
  • weakened immune system due to age, autoimmune diseases, HIV or AIDS, or malnutrition
  • functional disabilities
  • recent surgeries, such as a lung transplant

When the RSV vaccine becomes available, you’ll likely be able to access it where you normally receive other vaccinations. This includes your primary care physician, pharmacy, or local clinic.

In the meantime, your doctor will likely recommend that you stay on top of other items on your vaccination schedule to help prevent other viral infections. Some of these vaccines may include:

  • your annual flu shot
  • COVID-19 primary vaccines and recommended boosters
  • shingles vaccine
  • pneumonia vaccine

There’s no specific medication available to treat RSV. As with a common cold, rest and plenty of fluids are the treatments as your body recovers from this infection.

However, if you develop a lower respiratory infection, such as bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics may be prescribed. Severe illness from RSV may be treated at a hospital with supplemental oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids.

While the RSV vaccine isn’t yet available, there’s a good chance we’ll see a safe and effective vaccine in the near future.

In the meantime, there are other steps you can take to help prevent RSV infection in yourself and your loved ones. You can:

  • Wash your hands: Do so with lukewarm water and soap for 20 seconds at a time often, especially after touching common surfaces or before eating. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces: Focus on common surfaces, such as doorknobs, phones, and light switches, as well as kitchen counters, sinks, and toilets.
  • Stay home when sick: This helps prevent the spread of the virus while also allowing yourself time to recover. Also, try to avoid others who are sick if you can.

If you have specific concerns about RSV or think you may have an RSV infection, talk with a healthcare professional regarding next steps. They can also advise you when it’s best to seek emergency medical care.