While it causes cold-like respiratory symptoms in most people, an infection can be dangerous for certain populations. That’s why scientists have been working hard on a treatment that can protect those who are vulnerable.
RSV tends to be most severe in infants and older adults, potentially leading to hospitalization or even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the CDC estimates that between 6,000 and 10,000 at-risk adults die of RSV each year, and 58,000 to 80,000 children are hospitalized because of the virus.
Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration authorized two RSV vaccines for use in adults 60 and up. The shot is available to many people right now, which comes at a welcome time: RSV cases are on the rise in the Southeastern U.S.
But that doesn’t mean everyone can just run out and get one. Below, experts break down who is eligible and what else you should know about the jab:
Adults 60 and up are eligible for the vaccine — but not everyone in this category needs it.
The RSV vaccine is recommended for adults 60 and older, but that does not mean every person 60 and up needs to get the vaccine, according to Dr. Tochi Iroku-Malize, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
“They should have what we call shared clinical decision-making where the physician and the patient work together to determine whether the vaccine is right for them,” Iroku-Malize said.
Together, you’ll go over your risk factors and medical history to see if this shot is necessary.
“So, some people who may be at higher risk — say they have a comorbid condition, which is hypertension, diabetes ... are they currently undergoing cancer therapy? Are they immunocompromised? ... Do they have respiratory issues [like COPD or asthma]? This virus attacks the respiratory system,” she said.
The CDC also includes people who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities as high risk for severe disease.
In other words, those who are 60 and older should look at the bigger picture before getting the shot right now. Talk to your doctor first.
The RSV vaccine will help people be better prepared to deal with an infection — it won’t necessarily prevent it entirely.
According to Iroku-Malize, this vaccine can boost your immune system to help protect you from serious RSV infection.
“When you get in contact with ... the virus, your body is better able to handle the infection and better able to keep these symptoms down ... and deal with the infection quickly,” she said.
The shot is essentially meant to help keep you out of the hospital and free of complications if you do get infected with RSV. It’s not necessarily meant to prevent illness entirely; this is similar to the current COVID-19 vaccines and the flu shot. The goal is to reduce severe disease.
The vaccine’s side effects are minimal.
As with all vaccines, side effects can be expected, but Iroku-Malize stressed that the RSV vaccine is safe and effective.
Dr. John Schumann, the executive medical director of Oak Street Health, said “the main side effects are pain and redness at the site of the shot — and I guess a little bit of swelling as well.” And since the vaccine activates your immune system, you may notice additional mild symptoms like achiness, Schumann said, or even a slight fever.
“But that should go away in a day or two,” Iroku-Malize said.
There was one serious side effect in the clinical trials. Schumann noted “there were very rare instances of Guillain-Barré syndrome,” a neurological disorder. But documentation from the CDC notes that it’s unclear whether the vaccine and the syndrome are connected.
Check your local health authority to find out when and where you can get the shot.
The RSV vaccine, which is just one dose, is currently available at certain pharmacies throughout the country, but not yet in all states.
To figure out if you should get the jab and if it’s available near you, it’s best to check with your doctor. You can also check with your local health authority to see when the vaccine will be available in your area.
If you’re in a population where RSV could seriously affect you, it’s best to consider getting the shot. This vaccine, along with your flu shot and updated COVID-19 booster (when it’s available) can help curtail a potential “tripledemic” of RSV, COVID and the flu.