The White House announced this week that drugmakers will supply an additional 230,000 doses of the newly approved RSV vaccine for infants to the U.S. market starting in early 2024. This comes amid high demand and limited supplies of the breakthrough vaccine that could save hundreds of lives.
Background On RSV And The New Vaccines
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract, typically proving serious in young infants and older adults. RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization in infants, with most cases occurring during fall and winter.
In June 2022, the FDA approved the first RSV protective vaccine for older adults over 60, followed by approval of a groundbreaking RSV preventative treatment for infants in November. The new infant immunization is administered as a monthly injection during peak RSV season to protect vulnerable babies.
|Approved Age Group
|Sanofi & AstraZeneca
These innovative products utilize monoclonal antibody technology to boost immunity and prevent severe RSV infections. Clinical trials found nearly 82% effectiveness at shielding infants from serious respiratory illness requiring medical care.
Rollout Faced Supply Constraints
Despite the incredible promise of these new immunizations, the initial vaccine rollout has faced production bottlenecks, distribution delays, and overwhelming interest from parents and doctors.
AstraZeneca, the maker of the infant shot, planned for an estimated 1.5 million doses to reach the U.S. market between October 2022 and spring 2023. However, providers placed over 2 million reservations for the vaccine by early December, greatly outpacing supply. The incredible demand forced many pediatricians and children’s hospitals to develop complex prioritization plans for the limited doses.
Additional Supply Bolsters Protection Efforts
To combat shortages and expand availability, AstraZeneca and competitor Sanofi will now manufacture and deliver over 230,000 extra doses of the infant RSV vaccine starting in January 2024. The Biden administration helped coordinate between the two rivals to boost near-term capacity.
“We know the frustration of parents eagerly seeking the vaccine for their young children,” stated Health Secretary Xavier Becerra. “So we’re using every available avenue to make this lifesaving tool more accessible.”
The supplementary supply will bolster vaccination efforts in advance of next winter’s RSV season. This proactive approach aims to increase infant population immunity and prevent another overwhelming wave of pediatric hospitalizations.
What To Expect Next
Looking ahead, AstraZeneca stated they remain on-track to produce approximately 3 million infant vaccine doses for the 2023-2024 RSV season in the U.S. market. Supply will continue scaling up in 2024 and beyond as manufacturing expands globally.
The companies also plan to make the vaccines more convenient by developing longer-lasting formulations requiring less frequent injections. Experts predict significantly higher availability within two years as the market matures.
In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control continues recommending the newly available vaccines to vulnerable groups, despite scattered shortages. Providers are encouraged to vaccinate pregnant patients in their third trimester to confer antibodies protecting newborns. Older adults over 60 should also get immunized before peak RSV months.
Ongoing Calls To Educate Public
Some experts argue that confusion and lack of public awareness have also impacted the rollout. Surveys show only 49% of pregnant people and 38% of older adults understand that RSV poses a serious health risk for them or their child.
“We have to do a better job educating about RSV dangers,” urged Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University. “Too many view it as just a cold and downplay these amazing innovations in prevention.”
Clear communication and community outreach will play a key role ensuring vulnerable groups take full advantage of the vaccines in coming years. Though supply shortages persist, expanding production and distribution alongside increased public understanding will help save infants and older Americans from the dangers of RSV.
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