For years, there was no medicine to prevent RSV in babies. August 2023 marked a significant milestone with the first widely available RSV prevention for babies. We recently discussed frequently asked questions and what parents should know about this new shot with Andrew Gelfand, M.D., Chief of Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine at Children's Health℠ and Clinical Professor at UT Southwestern.
RSV is a common respiratory virus. It spreads through the air, typically during the winter months. In older children and adults, RSV typically feels like a bad cold, and people get better with rest and supportive care. However RSV can be serious for infants, especially those with an underlying health condition.
"RSV can cause significant airway swelling. With older children and adults, this airway swelling isn't usually serious. But because babies' airways are so small to begin with, this swelling can significantly restrict airflow," says Dr. Gelfand.
What is the new RSV shot for babies?
The new RSV prevention medication is called nirsevimab (also called Beyfortus). It is now on the list of recommended shots for all babies, has minimal side effects and should be broadly covered by insurance.
"This is the first widely available RSV prevention medication and it's a huge advance," Dr. Gelfand says. "It decreases the risk of hospitalization for babies with RSV by 70% and reduces the need for intensive care by 90%."
This medicine can protect babies from severe RSV infections for around 5 months. RSV typically spreads seasonally, from November to March, so this shot should offer protection for the duration of a typical RSV season.
When can babies get the RSV shot?
The RSV shot for babies is recommended for all babies under 8 months old.
Babies with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for severe RSV should also receive a booster shot going into their second RSV season when they are between 8 and 19 months old.
"We recommend asking your pediatrician about it in September or October, just before the RSV season typically starts," Dr. Gelfand says.
The shot is particularly important for babies with a family history of RSV complications or asthma because there is a link between having RSV early in life and later developing asthma and wheezing.
"If you are on the fence about getting the shot for your child and have a family history of asthma, we highly recommend getting the shot and getting it early," Dr. Gelfand says.
Where can my baby get the RSV shot?
Your baby may be able to receive their RSV shot at their birthing hospital or pediatrician's office. Ask your pediatrician if they have the shot available. It is safe for your baby to receive this shot at the same time as other recommended immunizations.
Is the RSV shot safe for babies?
The FDA says the shot is safe for babies and listed only very minor side effects.
"This shot is very safe and well tolerated for babies," Dr. Gelfand says. "There were only mild side effects typical with any shot which were pain or redness at the injection site. It also should not cause any side effects like fever or chills."
Is my child eligible for the RSV booster shot?
The FDA also approved a second dose of the RSV prevention shot for babies with certain underlying health conditions that may increase their risk for severe infection. Babies 8-19 months old may be eligible for a second dose if they have the following conditions:
- Chronic lung disease, often seen in babies who were born premature and their lungs did not have enough time to develop in the womb.
- Cyanotic heart disease, a number of heart diseases babies can be born with, including total anomalous pulmonary venous return, transposition of the great arteries and Tetralogy of Fallot.
- Immune deficiencies, where a baby's immune system doesn't work properly.
- Neuromuscular weakness, problems with how a baby's nerves and muscles work.
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