Health Canada reviews RSV vaccine candidate as cases rise nationwide – National |

As doctors fear that older adults are the next wave to get seriously ill from respiratory syncytial virus, Health Canada is reviewing a vaccine to help protect the elderly.

Health Canada said it received a submission from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) on October 25 for a RSV vaccine for adults 60 years of age and older.

Also, Pfizer has notified Health Canada that it plans to submit two RSV vaccine candidates to consider: one for seniors and one for pregnant women, according to the statement.

“Once a submission is received, as with all vaccine submissions, it is reviewed by Health Canada through an independent process that is based on scientific rigor and medical evidence,” he said.

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According to Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network in Toronto, “everyone is very focused right now on what’s happening at our children’s hospitals.”

“It’s almost a snapshot of what we think will happen in our adult hospitals as well,” he said.

Infectious disease experts have reported an earlier and harsher-than-usual flu and RSV season, in part because COVID-19 pandemic health measures in previous years also protected against those viruses.

But older people are also vulnerable to serious illness this year as more RSV circulates, and it’s only a matter of time before the spread passes from children to grandparents, Sinha said.

“We are concerned this year that we are going to see a record number of older adults exposed to RSV,” he said.

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Record number of sick children staying home from school in Quebec

Although data on current RSV admissions by age group is limited, doctors are already beginning to see “an increasing number” of adults admitted to the hospital for RSV, along with influenza and COVID-19, Sinha said.

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The Public Health Agency of Canada does not collect age-specific data on RSV hospitalizations, it said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

“RSV and influenza are two infections that have always had a disproportionate impact on the very young and the very old,” said Dawn Bowdish, Canada Research Chair in Aging and Immunity and immunologist at McMaster University in Hamilton.

This is because a child’s first RSV infection tends to make them sicker, and then they have some immunity throughout their lives. But that ability to mount a strong immune response and fight infection wanes among older people, she said.

On top of that, people older than 65 tend to have less resilient lungs, he said, making them “much more vulnerable to lung damage” from respiratory infections like RSV.

Although there are many young children sick with RSV, they tend to recover, while elderly patients may be much more affected, Sinha said.

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“Our big concern right now is that we know that the actual burden of disease, on an annual basis, tends to be higher when it comes to RSV among older people. That is where we see the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths occur,” he said.

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Both Sinha and Bowdish say a safe and effective RSV vaccine would be an important tool to protect older people.

“The preliminary data that I have seen from various manufacturers is quite promising,” Sinha said.

Those data appear to show a “fairly good level of efficacy” and the ability to significantly reduce hospitalizations and other serious outcomes from RSV among older people, he said.

“We are very hopeful… that we could potentially have an approved RSV vaccine for older adults as early as next year.”

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How to protect seniors as the holidays approach

Families may decide to protect seniors by minimizing contact with vulnerable seniors during this rise in respiratory illness, but that won’t be realistic come the holidays, Bowdish said.

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“(If) you have an older adult living in long-term care, or a family member who is a little bit socially isolated … the bond is so strong and so important,” she said. “I would never recommend complete isolation.”

Unlike COVID-19 or the flu, there is currently no vaccine for RSV, making other prevention measures even more important, he said. These include wearing a mask and not visiting your elderly loved one if they’re not feeling well.

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