Update: Respiratory Syncytial Virus Vaccines on the Horizon for Older Adults

By Kelsey Glatfelter posted 12-22-2016 10:43 AM


GSA is proud to work in the arena of vaccinations through various multi-stakeholder alliances. NAVP and ICAMP programs have been a big part of our 2016 agenda. In support of the NFID, find a new blog post from Dr. Talbot from NFID.

Update: Respiratory Syncytial Virus Vaccines on the Horizon for Older Adults

H. Keipp Talbot, MD, MPH

If you’ve never thought about respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as a problem among adults, you’re not alone. RSV has long been thought of as a disease affecting infants, but emerging data has shown otherwise. Adults age 65 years and older have high annual attack rates and suffer disproportionate rates of hospitalization and death from RSV—overall, second only to influenza among respiratory viruses.


RSV attacks with regularity each winter season, at about the same time as influenza. But unlike influenza, with a variable attack rate and severity from one season to the next, RSV is more consistent. With an attack rate of 5.5 percent, RSV will infect about 2.6 million older adults each year, mostly between November and May. It is estimated that RSV kills 14,000 and hospitalizes 177,000 older adults annually.

During childhood through early adulthood, RSV presents very much like the common cold. It is the extremes of age where the greatest burden lays—infants and adults 65+. In the 65+ population, RSV can not only cause an acute respiratory infection (like influenza) but it can exacerbate many chronic health problems such as heart failure and lung disease.   

By the time a patient feels ill enough to present to a healthcare professional, it’s nearly impossible to tell influenza and RSV apart based on symptoms alone and until recently, laboratory tests for RSV were not very sensitive.

There are some promising advances on the horizon for RSV prevention and treatment. Data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and PATH show that there are multiple drugs and vaccines in the development pipeline. Several drugs are currently in Phase 2 trials for the treatment and prevention of RSV in adults including monoclonal antibodies and small molecules. Antiviral therapies in development target the RSV fusion protein, which the virus needs to enter host cells.


More than three dozen RSV vaccines for a range of patient populations are in preclinical development and more than a dozen are in clinical trials.

To learn more, read the recent report from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), Respiratory Syncytial Virus in Older Adults: A Hidden Annual Epidemic and visit www.nfid.org/rsv. Now is the time for the medical community to become better informed about RSV so we are prepared to advise older patients about the best ways to prevent and treat RSV when new options do become available.