Iowa doctors behind new RSV vaccines

IOWA CITY — For most people, Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV is a mild respiratory infection, but for at-risk infants and seniors, it can be much more dangerous.

Iowa doctors are behind a newly released vaccine experts said could help reduce the virus’s severity this winter.

RSV is a leading cause of hospitalization for infants in the U.S. It is estimated to cause around 10,000 deaths annually in Americans age 65 and older. Flu and COVID now have safe and effective vaccines but, until now, RSV did not.

Dr. Patricia Winokur, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Iowa, led a vaccine trial and found it helpful at both ends of the age spectrum, but also for pregnant women and their babies.

“They did a study in about 7,000 pregnant women,” Winokur outlined. “What they found was they could prevent disease in the babies for 90% of the time for three months, and then if you followed them for six months they were about 80% protected.”

The clinical trial was conducted among 37,000 adults age 60 and older nationwide. About 150 Iowans participated at Winokur’s University of Iowa site.

RSV causes severe infections in young children, especially those less than a year old. Most of the time the infections are not serious, but children born prematurely, with a low birth weight, or who have underlying health issues such as congenital heart defects, run an increased risk of developing severe disease from an RSV infection.

Winokur noted many of the 150 Iowans who participated in the clinical trial had a few reasons for doing so.

“They thought this was a really important way that they could protect themselves,” Winokur observed. “Because they might be getting RSV from their grandkids, but also to protect their grandkids.”

Winokur said regulators will now study the best way to make the RSV vaccine available nationwide.