In Elder Law News

Doctor in gloves and mask injects masked senior patient with vaccine.

Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have each developed a vaccine to protect older adults from a virus known as RSV. People over 60 are at significant risk of serious complications if they contract RSV. Fortunately, with the recent FDA approval of Pfizer’s Abrysvo vaccine and GSK’s Arexvy vaccine, along with practical safety measures, seniors can take steps to avoid the effects of this virus.

What Is RSV?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a respiratory infection that mimics the common cold. Most people recover from RSV within two weeks after initial exposure to the virus. However, the virus can cause serious complications in older adults.

Symptoms of RSV can include:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Wheezing

New RSV Vaccines Are on the Horizon

GSK has developed an RSV vaccine that has recently received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. It developed the vaccine Arexvy to prevent lower respiratory disease in older adults caused by RSV. Arexvy is the first RSV vaccine approved for use in the United States.

The GlaxoSmithKline approval was based on positive data that included a showing of an overall vaccine efficacy of nearly 83 percent in older adults with at least one underlying medical condition.

Before submitting its vaccine for FDA approval, Pfizer also conducted tests to determine its efficacy. The main clinical study found that Abrysvo had an efficacy of almost 86 percent in participants. The study also found that the vaccine significantly reduced the risks of adults older than 60 developing RSV-associated lower respiratory tract disease by about 83 percent.

Some participants reported side effects that included injection site pain, joint stiffness, muscle pain, headaches, and fatigue. A small number of participants in the Arexvy studies developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). The FDA is requiring GSK to complete a subsequent study to determine whether there is a significant risk that users will develop Guillain-Barre Syndrome or ADEM.

RSV is a seasonal disease, with a season typically beginning in the fall and peaking in the winter. GlaxoSmithKline reports that the Arexvy vaccine is effective across two RSV seasons.

Who Is at Risk for RSV?

Older people are more vulnerable to contracting RSV. As we age, our immune systems naturally weaken, and we become more susceptible to disease, including RSV. Seniors at the greatest risk of getting RSV are those with chronic heart or lung disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60,000 to 160,000 older adults are hospitalized and between 6,000 and 10,000 seniors die each year from RSV nationwide.

Potential Complications for Older Adults With RSV

RSV can lead to serious complications in people aged 60 and over, including severe infections that can lead to extended hospital stays.

RSV is an illness that affects the respiratory system, so seniors with the following underlying illnesses may experience significant problems fighting off the RSV infection:

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Asthma
  • Exacerbation of pneumonia

Seniors Can Adopt These Practices to Help Stop the Spread of RSV

RSV is an easily transmittable disease. Fortunately, seniors can adopt simple habits to contain the spread. Some of the following practices can save your life or the life of your loved ones:

  • Stay Away From Public Places When You’re Sick

    It is critical to avoid public places like grocery stores, recreation centers, nursing home common areas, and the like when you are sick. RSV is highly contagious, so if you are ill, stay away from others to avoid spreading the disease.

  • Clean and Disinfect Frequently Touched Surfaces

    Clean and disinfect high-traffic areas. Be sure to wipe doorknobs, countertops, and other areas that are typically frequented in your home.

  • Avoid Close Contact With Sick People

    You should avoid anyone that is sick. Again, RSV is highly communicable, and an older adult may face serious consequences if they are infected.

  • Don’t Touch Your Face

    Never touch your face with unwashed hands. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Wash Your Hands

    Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are unavailable, consider using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Both vaccines are expected to become available in the United States in the fall of 2023.

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