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Changes to the use of palivizumab to protect at-risk children from winter respiratory virus

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20 July 2021
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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) usually occurs for a few weeks in the winter and is the most common cause of infections in the airways and lungs (lower respiratory tract infection) in children. For most children, RSV causes only mild illness that doesn’t need treatment. However, some children are at risk of severe infection that may need treatment in hospital. These include young children with severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID) and some babies who have conditions affecting their heart or lungs.

Babies and children up to 2 years of age who are considered to be at risk of severe illness from RSV can have a medicine called palivizumab (brand name Synagis) during the winter to help protect them. Palivizumab is given once a month by injection into a muscle. Treatment with palivizumab in this way is called “passive immunisation” because it helps with immunity. However, it is not a vaccination, and the protection only lasts for about a month after each injection.

The National Health Service (NHS) has recently published new guidance identifying which children and babies can receive treatment with palivizumab for passive immunisation against RSV. The guidance has been increased to include some preterm babies who are receiving oxygen at home. Your paediatrician or doctor will tell you if your child/baby should have this treatment. The new guidance also recommends that seven injections are administered this coming autumn and winter (2021–2022) rather than the usual five. The guidance has been changed because experts think there is the potential for a rise in cases of RSV this autumn and winter. 

You can read more about the plans to extend passive immunisation against RSV with palivizumab in at-risk infants and children on the attached PDF from the NHS.

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