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Winter Dose

Vaccine to protect infants from RSV may be available in Ireland next year

There has been a sharp spike in Respiratory Syntactical Virus this winter, with 829 cases recorded in the last week.

A VACCINE MAY be made available in Ireland next year to protect young children against RSV, the Minister for Health has told The Journal in an interview.

Stephen Donnelly said the vaccine is already in use in Spain and appears to be “really -effective” — but it’s expensive and Ireland will need to negotiate a price with the manufacturer.

There has been a sharp spike in Respiratory Syntactical Virus (RSV) this winter, with 829 cases recorded in the last week, prompting the HSE to warn that the virus is circulating at “extraordinarily high levels” and advising that parents “cocoon” very young babies, who are particularly vulnerable.

A vaccine to protect young infants against RSV has been approved for use in Europe but is not yet available in Ireland. 

Donnelly has said he is “concerned” about the high prevalence of the virus.

Speaking to The Journal, he said: “Our hope had been that the RSV surge was falling.”

“We had a really high peak this year, way above previous years, and it put the emergency departments under a lot of pressure. They’ve been really stretched, partly driven by this big surge in RSV, but it started to fall,” he said.

“The usual pattern for these is they go up really quickly and then they come down really quickly. So it went up, it’s gone down, and now it’s gone up again. The hope is that it will taper off quickly but I would support the public health advice.”

In July, the European Medicines Agency approved a vaccine called Abrysvo that can be administered during pregnancy and protects infants from disease caused by RSV in the first six months of life. It has also been approved for use in adults aged 60 or over, who are another age group at highest risk from RSV. 

Pregnant women in Ireland are also offered a vaccine against whooping cough, which protects their newborn babies from the highly infectious disease until they can be vaccinated themselves.

The Journal asked the minister whether the vaccine may be introduced in Ireland.

“We are looking at it. The EMA authorised it earlier this year and the Health Information Quality Authority is doing a health technology assessment on it,” Donnelly said.

“It’s expensive, so we have to make sure that it’s value for money. The Spanish went ahead with it and it looks like it’s really effective. Hopefully it’s something we might have in for next year.

“But we’ve got to do the health technology assessment, then we’ve got to negotiate with the manufacturers. There’s a whole process that would need to happen. But certainly the indications from Spain are pretty positive.”

On Thursday evening, the HSE said that there had been 829 new cases of RSV and 28 flu cases in the previous week and warned that children under the age of four and older people have been particularly affected by the surges.

The symptoms of an RSV infection are initially similar to those of a cold. They can include: 

  • A cough
  • Wheezing
  • A runny nose
  • Difficulty feeding or decreased appetite
  • Fever (temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher
  • A sore throat

After four or five days with the infection, babies and young children can develop bronchiolitis, which affects their breathing. Parents who may be concerned about their child’s health are advised to consult their doctor or contact emergency services in the event of an emergency.

The HSE and Health Protection Surveillance Centre are advising parents to reduce the risk that their young children are infected with the virus by avoiding making visits to or being visited by people with any symptoms of cold and respiratory illnesses.


Christina Finn & Lauren Boland
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