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Here’s what would happen if RSV vaccines were like flu shots

If respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccines were given to people aged 60 and older like a flu shot, it would “dramatically” reduce illness and death, a new study says.

Published on Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases, the study by Yale University researchers found if 66 per cent of the older adult population was given an RSV vaccine, it would decrease the burden of patients on the health-care system.

For many people, RSV presents like a common cold, but for young children, infants or older adults, it can result in severe infections.

RSV vaccines Arexvy and Abrysvo are authorized for people age 60 and over in the U.S., the study notes.

In Canada, Arexvy can be given to prevent RSV in adults aged 60 and older and Abrysvo can be given to pregnant individuals and infants from birth to six months to prevent lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV.

Arexvy can cost Canadians up to $300 per dose depending on the province or territory. Ontario is the only place in Canada providing free doses to people 60 and older living in long-term care homes, elder care lodges or certain retirement homes.

People who are not eligible can purchase the vaccine out-of-pocket but will require a prescription from a doctor. Some insurance providers could also cover part of the cost.

According to the study, a yearly RSV vaccine could reduce millions of dollars in annual outpatient and hospitalization costs in the U.S.

“RSV causes substantial morbidity and mortality among the elderly in the U.S. and globally, but this is the first time that RSV vaccines have been available,” Alison Galvani, the Burnett and Stender Families Professor of Epidemiology Microbial Diseases at the Yale School of Public Health, said in the press release.

Researchers analyzed the outcomes for the 60 and older population in the U.S. to understand the benefits of a widely available RSV vaccine. They looked at an annual incident rate per 100,000 people needing outpatient, inpatient and intensive care, as well as the death rate.

In two scenarios factoring in 66 per cent of the population receiving the vaccine and 100 per cent of the population, researchers concluded RSV doses would reduce illness, health care costs and death.

In the first year, the vaccines would reduce outpatient care by 41.4 to 53.6 per cent, hospitalizations by 57.6 to 60.5 per cent, and RSV-related deaths by 58.5 to 60.4 per cent.

Increasing vaccinations to 100 per cent of the population would reduce outpatient care by 62.9 to 81.2 per cent, hospitalizations by 87.4 to 91.7 per cent, and deaths by 87.6 to 91.3 per cent.

However, researchers noted that the scenario with 66 per cent of people covered with doses at a price between US$118 and US$127 per dose is the most cost-effective.

This “would cost the U.S. health-care system $6.4 to $7.1 billion for one season,” the study reads.

The result of the vaccines being harder to access means fewer people will be able to protect themselves, Galvani said.

“It would be great if we could achieve even higher levels,” she said. “But if we can achieve that for flu, it makes sense that would be feasible for RSV vaccination as well.”

The vaccines are intended to protect people over two RSV seasons — meaning people would need to get a shot every two years — but researchers felt real-world efficacy data is needed to confirm this, the press release reads.

“Accessibility and cost are definitely concerns in the American health-care system,” Galvani said. “Our results demonstrate the importance of making these vaccines accessible to everyone over 60 years to realize their full benefit.” 

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