RSV vaccine trial to protect pre-term babies

Monday, 10 July, 2023

RSV vaccine trial to protect pre-term babies

Researchers from Mater Mothers’ Hospital Brisbane are trialling a new respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine that could deliver single dose protection and reduce hospitalisation rates of premature babies after discharge.

RSV causes severe infections of the lungs and respiratory tract and commonly affects premature babies who have chronic neonatal lung disease. It is one of the most common reasons for hospital admission in infants under the age of one.

National health figures show that in the last six months 43,221 RSV cases have been recorded around the country.1

Mater Director of Neonatology Dr Pita Birch said many preterm babies had underlying lung conditions and were at greater risk of serious complications if they contracted RSV. “Those that develop RSV can be affected by bronchiolitis, which causes difficulty in breathing. This can become so severe that babies require respiratory support, including intubation and mechanical ventilation,” he said.

“Preterm babies who go home on oxygen are much more likely to require admission to a paediatric intensive care unit for breathing support and are more likely to die of RSV infection than healthy term babies without underlying lung problems.

“If the trial is successful, the new vaccine will better protect babies against developing RSV infection compared with the current vaccine, and reduce hospitalisations, intensive care admissions and deaths.”

Mater Research Lead Clinical Research Coordinator Stephanie Guilas and Primary Study Coordinator Annie Kenny said the study was comparing the trial vaccine with the RSV vaccinations currently provided to at-risk babies.

“Preterm babies currently require up to five doses of the existing RSV vaccines via injections at the start of the RSV season, which is most common during winter, she said. “With this study, we’re hoping these babies will only need one vaccination in the future.”

Gold Coast twins Adeline and Audrey Hockings were born 15 weeks early at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in South Brisbane in February 2023 and are participating in the clinical trials. Mum Jennifer Hockings said her twin girls had chronic neonatal lung disease and came home on oxygen.

“We wanted to be part of the trial offered because if our girls’ situation can improve outcomes for other tiny babies like them in the future, it would mean the world to us,” Mrs Hockings said.

“While our girls may not directly benefit from their participation, we hope that there are other babies that do. Premmie babies have to go through so many procedures, getting constantly poked, pricked and prodded as a necessary part of their care.

“If this trial is successful and there are a few less needles they have to endure, then that is fantastic.”

1. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) fortnightly reports | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.

Image caption: Gold Coast mum Jennifer Hockings with her premature twin girls Audrey and Adeline. Photo: Peter Wallis.

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