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As RSV season approaches in Missouri, drug shortage may affect infants

A hand holds a vial. It is drawing a vaccine dose.
Rebecca Smith
A public health nurse in Boone County, Missouri, draws out a dose of vaccine.

The CDC issued a health advisory Monday, notifying doctors of a limited supply of a new drug used to treat respiratory syncytial virus in infants.

The drug, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July, has seen “higher than anticipated” demand, according to manufacturer Sanofi.

MU Health Care has tried to order as much of the drug as possible since they found out it was available, said Dr. Laura Morris, co-chair of the vaccine committee at MU Health Care.

“We have gotten very limited numbers of doses, and we are prioritizing and have been prioritizing this for our patients that are in the NICU,” Morris said.

RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization among U.S. infants, according to a CDC news release. Older adults are also at a higher risk of experiencing a severe infection.

RSV often appears as cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing and fever, according to the CDC.

“When (infants) get RSV, it causes a condition we call {span}bronchiolitis,” Morris said. “They have a lot of secretions, a lot of congestion and can have difficulty breathing and low oxygen levels.” {/span}

The drug, sold by the brand name Beyfortus, comes in pre-filled syringes of 50 milligrams or 100 milligrams. While there are sufficient numbers of the 50 milligram doses, which are reserved for smaller infants, the 100 milligram doses, meant for larger infants, are experiencing the shortage.

Due to the shortage, the CDC recommends that doctors prioritize administering the available 100 milligram doses to infants under 6 months old and infants with underlying conditions that put them at high risk for RSV.

In 2022, RSV antigen detections in Missouri spiked between late October and early November, according to CDC data.

Morris noted that RSV season is typically between October and March, and cases are typically highest during the holiday season. She also described a phenomenon of “strangely early” RSV cases over the past few years, spiking in early fall before subsiding in the winter, which was first seen following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last year, for example, around this time, we had a lot of patients at the hospital, and we were seeing adults getting sick with RSV and this year we have not seen that,” Morris said. “It has only just started to tick up in terms of activity in Missouri.”

When it comes to protecting infants from RSV, Morris recommends that pregnant people get an RSV vaccine in addition to the routine tetanus, diptheria and pertussis vaccination that is usually administered during the third trimester.

“(The vaccine) will make antibodies in the mother’s body that will pass through the placenta and help protect the infant immediately when it’s born,” Morris said.

The CDC recommends preventative measures such as hand-washing and staying home when sick to minimize risk of spreading and contracting RSV.

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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