Synagis for RSV

I was reading up on what you had to say about RSV-IVIG and looking for any information that is out on the new immunization now available called Synagis. My son was born prematurely and diagnosed with chronic lung disease. His doctors are recommending he get treatment. I am curious about the shot's side effects.

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

As you know, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a viral infection that typically causes a runny nose, fever, and upper respiratory congestion in children and adults. In younger children, typically under two years of age, this virus can progress to infect the lungs causing wheezing and respiratory distress. However, in those at high-risk (such as babies with chronic lung disease and those born quite prematurely), this virus can cause life- threatening disease due difficulty breathing from the lung involvement.

While a vaccine for this disease is in the works, its availability is still years away. Therefore, medical strategies to prevent this infection have been directed at providing the baby with antibodies that can recognize and attach to the virus effectively neutralizing it. The first product to make it on the market, Respigam (RSV-IVIG), is successful at decreasing the number of hospitalized high-risk babies that are admitted to the hospital from RSV infection. However, there are several disadvantages to this preventative medication:

  • It has to be given through the vein which requires several hours of infusion
  • In previous years, its availability was erratic due to shortages of blood donors throughout the country
  • Because it is derived from human blood, there is a theoretical risk of transmitting disease
  • It interferes with certain vaccines, so the MMR and Chicken Pox vaccine have to be delayed
  • It has to be given monthly throughout the typical RSV season (October to March)
  • It's extremely expensive

This year, a new preventative medication, Synagis, has been approved by the FDA. It's strategy for preventing infection is the same as Respigam, but instead of being purified from human blood, it is manufactured through state- of-the-art technology. This affords several advantages:

  • It may be given as a shot rather than through the vein which significantly reduces the time and resources it takes to give it
  • Production can be stepped up relatively rapidly, and shortages are not anticipated
  • Since it is manufactured not purified, there is no risk to transmitting disease
  • It does not interfere with vaccines, so they may be given at the appropriate time
  • Unfortunately, it still has to be given monthly and is still extremely expensive

It is important to realize that Synagis is technically not a vaccine but rather a medication that actively decreases the severity of infection. The purpose of this medication is to decrease hospitalization. In other words, your child may very well get RSV, but hopefully the use of Synagis will decrease his risk of having to be admitted to the hospital because of it. It's most common side effects are fever and pain/soreness at the injection site.

I hope this helps.

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