The autonomous communities have begun to immunize babies against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) for the first time. This virus causes the vast majority of cases of bronchiolitis in infants, in addition to other diseases such as pneumonia or persistent wheezing, limitation of airflow in the respiratory tract. The measure aims to reduce the risk of severity of bronchiolitis and alleviate possible hospital pressure derived from this disease, as occurred in much of the country in November 2022. Immunization against RSV is primarily aimed at all babies born from April, and is up to 80% effective in reducing hospitalizations, according to studies.
Catalonia, Madrid, the Valencian Community, La Rioja, Asturias, the Balearic Islands, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands begin vaccination this week. Andalusia, Murcia, Navarra and Galicia began at the end of October; and Extremadura will do so in November. The Basque Country will limit immunization to at-risk babies and those born from this October.
The Department of Health of the Generalitat of Catalonia presented its vaccination plan this Monday, in a strategy similar to that of the majority of territories. Health will immunize babies born between April and October of this year in primary care centers (CAP); and in hospitals to newborns. Children between January and March are not called. “We are not targeting this group because they are older and have already had contact with the virus in the previous campaign. They are less vulnerable, and bronchiolitis is much more serious in children under six months,” Cristina Curto, pediatric nurse, and Carla Corberó, pediatrician, defended during the presentation. The monoclonal antibody (immune system proteins created in the laboratory) against RSV is administered in a single dose that will be dispensed during this fall-winter, coinciding with the greatest circulation of this virus.
One of the main objectives of the administrations is to reduce the risk of suffering from the most serious condition of bronchiolitis and relieve the hospital system. “RSV causes 80% of bronchiolitis. It is a serious respiratory condition that requires hospitalization in babies,” said the Health Minister of the Generalitat, Manel Balcells, who has assured that immunization reduces the chances of hospital admission by up to 80% according to related studies. In Catalonia, the syncytial virus caused more than 1,000 hospitalizations, of which 396 ended up in the ICU. In Madrid the revenue reached 3,800, with more than 300 critics. “The effectiveness of immunization is very great. We recommend that all families contact the CAPs,” Balcells stressed.
RSV mainly causes runny nose, cough, low fever and some difficulty breathing in mild cases among children. Babies can suffer breathing difficulties due to inflammation of the bronchioles, the narrow tube that connects to the lung alveolus.
Impact on pediatrics
Last November, Catalonia and Madrid experienced a peak in bronchiolitis that generated a significant impact on pediatric care: children under one year of age registered a rate higher than 2,300 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Catalonia, when the epidemic base is around 150 cases. This disease was one of the three main respiratory epidemics – along with the flu and Covid – which saturated pediatric hospitals due to the pneumonia generated.
A European study published at the end of 2022 in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine estimated that one in every 56 healthy, non-premature babies who suffers from an RSV infection ends up admitted to the hospital. The authors suggest that vaccinating pregnant or lactating women in the first year of life can reduce the health burden by avoiding the most aggressive effects of this virus. According to The Lancet, more than 100,000 children under five died in 2019 from respiratory infections associated with this virus, the vast majority in low- or middle-income countries.
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