A child infected with RSV receives treatment as RS virus infections spread among children at the Missio Moenchberg children’s clinic, in Wuerzburg, Germany, December 2, 2022.
Heiko Becker | Reuters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has accelerated the distribution of more than 77,000 additional doses of a new drug designed to protect infants against respiratory syncytial virus amid a continuing shortage of treatment in the United States.
The CDC’s decision Thursday evening to increase the availability of Beyfortus, a monoclonal antibody Sanofi And AstraZeneca which was approved in August, comes as RSV cases rise in parts of the country ahead of the holiday season. The drug is one of two treatments available in the United States that can protect infants against the virus, which is the leading cause of hospitalization among babies nationwide.
Sanofi and AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the CDC announcement.
Hospitals and pediatricians are struggling to supply Beyfortus due to what Sanofi described as “unprecedented demand” for the treatment. The shortage – and other issues with insurance coverage – threatens to prevent infants from receiving critical protection against RSV.
RSV is a common respiratory infection that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms but can present as more severe cases in children and the elderly.
Each year, the virus kills a few hundred children under the age of 5 and 6,000 to 10,000 elderly people, according to the CDC. RSV also causes about 58,000 to 80,000 hospitalizations in children younger than 5 years old each year, the CDC said.
The CDC said the additional doses would be immediately distributed to doctors and hospitals through commercial channels and the Children’s Vaccine Program, which covers the cost of shots for uninsured and underinsured children.
The CDC said the agency, along with the Food and Drug Administration, will continue to be in close contact with drugmakers to ensure additional doses are available through the end of this year and early 2024 to to respond to demand.
“The CDC and FDA are committed to expanding access to this important vaccination so that more parents have peace of mind during the winter viral season,” CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in a statement.
The United States began seeing a sharp increase in RSV cases in mid-October. Nearly 5,000 cases were detected through testing in the United States during the week ended November 4, the highest level since last winter, according to the CDC website.
The United States experienced a particularly severe RSV season last year. Virus cases among children and the elderly have overwhelmed hospitals across the country, largely because the public stopped practicing Covid pandemic-related health measures that had helped keep RSV spread at a low level.