The weather is starting to change, which means bugs like RSV are back in full swing. RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms but can be fatal for some groups. RSV causes up to 80,000 hospitalizations among children five years old and younger, and up to 160,000 hospitalizations among adults aged 65 and older, resulting in a nationwide alert from the CDC.
The RSV Vaccine
In the face of rising RSV cases, we fortunately have some protection for those at the highest risk for severe infections and hospitalizations. The FDA approved the Arexy and Abrysvo vaccines for people ages 60 and older, as well as the Beyfortus and Synagis vaccines for children under five. These vaccines greatly reduce the risk of hospitalization in RSV patients young and old.
But we aren’t in the clear yet. Due to rising RSV concerns, these preventative measures are already running low. The nationwide shortage of vaccines is raising alarm bells for the CDC.
Rationing and Prioritizing
With the nationwide shortage in mind, doctors will have to make difficult decisions about rationing vaccine supplies and prioritizing their most vulnerable patients this winter.
Anxious parents who are rightfully concerned about their children’s safety were excited about the newly-approved vaccines, but the demand has now outpaced the supply. Vaccine manufacturers hope to ramp up production, but for now, the CDC recommends that doctors reserve their vaccine supply for infants and children who are at the highest risk due to other health issues.
Unfortunately, the skyrocketing demand for vaccines disadvantages lower-income families. Due to the shortage, many insurance companies will not cover the RSV vaccines, forcing families to pay around $450 out-of-pocket for a potentially life-saving vaccine. There is some help available for parents — the RSV vaccine is covered by the Vaccines for Children program, which covers the cost for underinsured or uninsured children.
But, there’s still a glaring issue: upfront costs for doctors. Most doctors pay for the drugs and vaccines in advance, with the knowledge that they’ll be repaid by the insurance company after administering them. Because of uncertainty about the cost of the RSV vaccine and insurance coverage, doctors in lower income areas may not have ordered any vaccinations at all, since they did not think their patients could afford them. Even with the help of the Vaccines for Children program, those doctors can’t place orders due to the shortage.
Shared Decision Making
Doctors don’t have to make decisions about vaccine rationing alone. Shared decision making is when a health care provider and a patient work together to make a health care decision that is best for the patient. By talking to their patients and consulting CDC recommendations, doctors who do have access to the vaccine can get them into the arms of those who need them the most first. Not only will it prevent serious cases of RSV, but it will help to slow the spread in the area.
The CDC recommends that doctors prioritize women who are 32-36 weeks pregnant and infants and toddlers under the age of five to receive preventative treatment first. Adults over the age of 60 should ask their healthcare provider first if the RSV vaccination is necessary for them or not.
How To Get The Vaccine
If you are in need of the RSV vaccine, see if your preferred pharmacy has the vaccine in stock or make an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. Discuss different options with your insurance company to see what is available to you as far as coverage for the RSV vaccine.
Stay Safe & Informed
Be aware of the spread of RSV in your area. At the time of publication, RSV is most prevalent in the southeastern United States, but there is still some risk for those living in other regions. You can monitor the CDC’s website to learn more about how RSV and other respiratory illnesses are affecting your community.
It’s hard for parents not to panic at this time of year, but you can stay proactive in preventing RSV, even if the vaccine isn’t available in your area. Remind friends and family to maintain proper hand hygiene and to never kiss infants.
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