by Jennifer Golden, Tom Thumb Pharmacy
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that can cause cold-like symptoms. The seasonality of RSV tends to range from mid-September to mid-February. In severe cases, it can spread to the lower respiratory tract and cause pneumonia or bronchiolitis. According to the CDC (Center of Disease Control) in September of this year, it is estimated that RSV causes up to 160,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths per year in older adults.
RSV is spread through contact with dried or direct respiratory droplets. Adults that are most at risk of developing a severe or life-threatening case of RSV are older adults (65 years and older) with lung or heart disease and people with weakened immune systems. The most common symptoms of an RSV infection include a congested or runny nose, dry cough, low-grade fever, sore throat, sneezing, and headache. In severe cases, symptoms may manifest as fever, severe cough, wheezing, and rapid or difficulty breathing.
Currently there are two vaccines on the market for adults needing protection against RSV - AREXVY© by Glaxo Smith Kline and ABRYSVO© by Pfizer. Both were approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) the summer of 2023 to provide protection to patients 60 years and older from RSV. At this time, it is administered as a single dose shot, with no evidence existing to determine the need for revaccination. The most common side effects of the vaccine are injection site pain, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and joint pain. Patients who would benefit the most from receiving the RSV vaccine are patients 60 years and older who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, neurologic or neuromuscular disorders, kidney disorders, liver disorders, hematologic disorders, are moderately or severely immune compromised, or who are frail. Patients who live in a nursing home or other long-term care facilities are also at risk for severe RSV disease and would benefit from receiving the vaccine. The only known contraindication to either vaccine is history of an allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine. Both vaccines have similar protection and possible side effects. ABRYSVO© has an additional indication for pregnant women during weeks 32 to 36 of gestation to protect the infant from birth to six months. For patients eligible for other adult vaccines, it is acceptable to co-administer the RSV vaccine with other adult vaccines during the same visit.
The RSV vaccine may be administered by your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider. Most Medicare Part D plans cover the vaccine at no charge to those age 60 and older. Consult with your local healthcare provider to see if receiving the vaccine is right for you.
Other non-pharmacological ways to protect against RSV that are recommended by the CDC - wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid close contact with sick people, clean/sanitize frequently touched surfaces, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, and stay home when sick.