Health officials encouraged by promising vaccine results as RSV cases create capacity strain

Michael Perchick Image
Tuesday, November 1, 2022
Health officials encouraged by promising RSV vaccine results
Pfizer released promising findings from an international study of its RSV vaccine, which comes as hospitals across the country are reporting upticks in cases.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Pfizer released promising findings on Tuesday from an international study of its RSV vaccine, which comes as hospitals across the country are reporting upticks in cases.

"It's a pretty novel strategy. It essentially gives the vaccine to mom rather than the baby, so that she can pass the antibodies and protection on to the child," said Dr. Nicholas Turner, an assistant professor of Infectious Diseases at Duke University School of Medicine.

The report, which included preliminary data, noted the vaccine was about 82% effective at protecting from severe illness from RSV at 90 days, and 69% at six months.

"I think this is exciting news. Oftentimes our children who are the sickest with this virus are not only those children that are less than 2 years of age but definitely those less than 6 months of age. So anything that is an advancement in medical care that can provide that much-needed protection of our newborn babies with this virus is absolutely key," said Dr. Kenya McNeal-Trice, President of the North Carolina Pediatric Society.

Pfizer noted there were no safety issues in mothers or babies, and plans to file for regulatory approval in the US and other countries by the end of the year.

While RSV cases typically peak in December or January, pediatric units are already seeing surges. Analysis from ABC News found nearly 75% of pediatric hospital beds across the country are occupied.

"With the numbers that we're seeing right now, and it's just early November, we're at risk of this being one of the worst RSV seasons that I've ever seen, and I've been here at the North Carolina Children's Hospital for 20 years. The taxing strain on our inpatient beds for children needing critical treatment is unprecedented," said McNeal-Trice.

"It's really the younger kids we worry that we worry the most about. Those under the age of 2, especially those under the age of 1, because they can get a much more severe, lower respiratory infection that can look a lot like pneumonia. Those kids can show signs of respiratory distress, so using their belly muscles to help them to breathe, breathing much faster than usual, and having a lot of difficulty clearing their secretions, "said Turner, who noted RSV can also be dangerous for older adults.

Parents, who have faced challenges navigating the pandemic for the past two-and-a-half-years, are now faced with another virus to contend with.

"It causes those smaller airwaves to become inflamed. It makes it very difficult for them to breathe, and for them to get rid of that extra mucus and cough that up. So what families maybe see is not just a fever and a runny nose, they might see their children, their younger children, breathing a lot faster," McNeal-Trice explained.

"It's definitely been a hard balance of thinking about and deciding what is best for my children and how can we still get them out there living their lives, but in a safe way," said Amanda Knight, the Administrative Vice President of International MOMS Club of Clayton.

Knight, a mother of two and a nurse, said she's heard concerns from other parents.

"Following your mom gut, your parent gut --if a situation doesn't seem safe, or you think your kid isn't safe, do what you think is best for you and your family," said Knight.

The CDC lists several tips to try to keep people safe from RSV, including covering sneezes and coughs, washing your hands for at least twenty seconds, avoiding close contact, and cleaning commonly-used surfaces like doorknobs and tablets.