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In recent years respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases have exploded in Australia. At the time of writing, there have been 24,211 notifications of laboratory confirmed RSV reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System this year.

A new vaccine Arexvy has been approved by the TGA through private prescription for patients aged 60 and over. The protein-based vaccine contains an antigen component and an adjuvant system and is given as a single dose intramuscularly.

Arexvy is designed to help protect people from serious illness and reduce hospitalisations, especially the vulnerable. However, not everyone is getting it. Arexvy costs up to $350 per dose and seen as unaffordable for some patients.

Arexvy has already been approved for use in the UK, the European Union, the US, Canada and Japan.  In recent days, the TGA has also approved an RSV vaccine (ABRYSVO) for pregnant women which protects their baby once born.  Again, PBS subsidy is not yet available. 

Free RSV immunisations for infants

In related news, a free RSV immunisation (nirsevimab) is available in Western Australia for babies aged under eight months, or up to 19 months for those at increased risk of severe RSV. It’s not actually a vaccine.  It’s a synthetic antibody which mimics the real anitbodies produced against RSV.

In NSW nirsevimab will be initially offered to hospitalised premature infants (less than 37 weeks gestation at birth) born after October 31, 2023, and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants born after October 31, 2023 in NSW. It will then be expanded to other high-risk infants under the program.

In Queensland nirsevimab , the following infants and young children will be eligible for RSV immunisation:

  • All newborn infants
    • This will be offered as a dose at birth or prior to discharge from hospital.
    • Infants born on or after the program commencement date who are not immunised in hospital, can access this dose up until they are less than 8 months of age.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants less than 8 months of age.
  • Infants with certain complex medical conditions less than 8 months of age.
  • Infants with certain complex medical conditions from 8 months up to 19 months of age (inclusive), until 31 October 2024.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

Most cases of illness caused by RSV are mild, but it can lead to serious illness for young children, the elderly and people who are immunosuppressed.

RSV can lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia. It can also cause ear infections and the coughing associated with the illness can worsen asthma symptoms.

According to NSW Health the symptoms usually begin around 5 days after exposure to the virus and can get worse over the first 3 to 4 days of the illness before an improvement. Symptoms can include:

  • runny nose
  • cough
  • sneezing
  • fever
  • ear infection (less common)
  • RSV can also cause wheezing and difficulty breathing.


Further information

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): NSW Health

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): Lung Foundation Australia

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