Health Canada reviews RSV vaccine candidate as cases spike across country

- Advertisement -

As doctors worry that older adults will be the next wave of those seriously ill by respiratory syncytial virus, Health Canada is reviewing a vaccine to help protect the elderly.

- Advertisement -

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

In addition, Pfizer has informed Health Canada that it plans to submit two RSV vaccine candidates for consideration: one for seniors and one for pregnant women, the statement said.


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

Story continues below Advertisement

- Advertisement -

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

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

Infectious disease experts are reporting an earlier and harsher RSV and flu season than usual, partly because the COVID-19 pandemic health measures in previous years protected against those viruses as well.

But seniors are also vulnerable to severe illness this year because more RSV is transmitted — and it’s only a matter of time before it spreads 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.

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

Story continues below Advertisement

A statement to the Canadian Press said that the Public Health Agency of Canada does not collect age-specific data on RSV hospitalizations.

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

This is because a child’s first RSV infection makes them sickest and then they have some immunity during their life. But the ability to mount a strong immune response and fight off infection tends to wane among seniors, she said.

On top of that, people age 65 and older have less flexible lungs, he said, so they are “more vulnerable to lung damage” from respiratory infections like RSV.

Sinha said that even though many young children are ill with RSV, they recover, while elderly patients may be more difficult.

“Our big concern right now is that we know the real burden of disease is greatest when it comes to RSV among older people. That’s where we see most hospitalizations and deaths occur, ” They said.

Story continues below Advertisement

Sinha and Baudish both say that a safe and effective RSV vaccine will be an important tool in protecting seniors.

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

They said the data show a “very good level of efficacy” and potential to reduce hospitalizations and other serious consequences from RSV among seniors.

“We’re quite hopeful … that we could potentially approve an RSV vaccine for older adults as early as next year.”

Bodish said families may decide to protect seniors by minimizing contact with vulnerable seniors during this increase in respiratory illnesses, but that won’t be realistic when the holidays come around.

Story continues below Advertisement

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

He noted that unlike COVID-19 or the flu, there is currently no vaccine for RSV — making other prevention measures even more important. These include wearing a mask and not meeting your old loved one if you feel unwell.


- Advertisement -

Recent Articles

Related Stories