Apr 6: Vaccinating babies and elderly against RS virus is now possible

Apr 6: Vaccinating babies and elderly against RS virus is now possible

It is becoming possible to vaccinate babies, pregnant women and the elderly to prevent serious infection with the RS virus. This is according to three studies by prof. dr. Louis Bont, pediatrician-infectiologist at UMC Utrecht. The findings were published this week in Lancet Infectious Diseases and the New England Journal of Medicine.

The new vaccines are a turning point in the fight against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is one of the leading causes of infant deaths worldwide. Louis Bont enthusiastically reports that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has bought the rights to one of the two new vaccines - the vaccine from pharmaceutical company Pfizer - to start producing it in and for developing countries. "Then together we will really do something about infant mortality worldwide".

Together with gynecologist prof. dr. Kitty Bloemenkamp of UMC Utrecht, Bont found that this new vaccine from Pfizer is safe and effective for pregnant women and the elderly. With this vaccine, the antibodies produced by the mother are transferred to the baby via the placenta. This means that babies in their most vulnerable period, the first three months of life, are well protected against RSV infection thanks to this vaccine. This study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was conducted on 7,400 mothers and their newborn child. Besides the UMC Utrecht, the Diakonessenhuis in Utrecht and the Spaarne Gasthuis in Haarlem also cooperated in this vaccine study.

In elderly people with poor health, the RS virus causes flu-like symptoms and is a common cause of respiratory infections. This can be prevented by vaccinating them with the same Pfizer vaccine, another new study in people >60 years demonstrated. This vaccine for pregnant women and the elderly is likely to be registered in the EU next year.

A sustainable vaccine to protect babies

There is also a new vaccine as a long-acting antibody against RSV specifically for newborns. In November 2022, nirsevimab was the first to be registered by the EU. The vaccine has been launched on the European market under the brand Beyfortus by pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Sanofi. To determine whether this vaccine is long-lasting against the virus, UMC Utrecht investigated whether the antibody in the vaccine targets a surface protein of the RS virus that remains unchanged. In this study, published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers saw that the protein does not mutate, making the risk of the virus becoming resistant - and the efficacy of this vaccine will decrease - extremely small. This is different from, for example, the influenza virus or coronavirus vaccines that need to be reconstituted each year because the continuous virus mutations. Bont led the global study that showed that the RS virus mutates much less than the coronavirus, making nirsevimab more sustainable.

About RSV

Each year, 150 to 200 babies in the Netherlands end up in intensive care unit. Among healthy infants, 1 in 56 will be hospitalized. Globally, RS virus is the second cause of death in infants after malaria.

Working at UMC Utrecht





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