A newly approved drug to prevent a common respiratory virus that can be fatal to young children is in short supply. (Photo by Canva)

A medication approved this summer to protect infants from a common respiratory virus is in short supply, prompting Oregon health officials to advise parents on Wednesday to take other precautions to prevent an infection.

The medication, called nirsevimab and sold under the brand name Beyfortus, is the first approved to protect  young children from RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. The Food and Drug Administration approved it in July. In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended it for children younger than eight months and some others but dialed that back in October to infants younger than 6 months and those with underlying conditions that put them at high risk for the disease. 

“There has been greater-than-expected demand for this new immunization against RSV,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist and Oregon Health Authority’s health officer, said in a news release.

The drug is a monoclonal antibody, like those used to treat COVID, that boosts the body’s immune system. The manufacturer, Sanofi, did not produce enough of it to meet the demand. 

In mid-October, the CDC put a hold on new orders – after Oregon had ordered 80% of its allocation. That means the state is in better shape than those that hadn’t ordered yet. Still, Oregon providers that serve children only have 7,000 doses, and 41,000 babies are born in Oregon each year, Jonathan Modie, the agency’s public health spokesman, told the Capital Chronicle.

Although anyone can catch RSV, it can be deadly to very young children and old people. Dr. Melissa Sutton, the authority’s medical director for respiratory viruses, said in the release that up to 3% of Oregon infants are hospitalized every year with RSV. Nationwide, RSV annually kills up to 300 children younger than 5 and up to 10,000 people over 65, according to the CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends nirsevimab, or Beyfortus, for:
• Infants younger than 6 months.
• American Indian and Alaska Native infants younger than 8 months and those 8 months to 19 months old living in remote regions.
• Infants younger than 8 months with underlying medical conditions.
The CDC recommends another drug, palivizumab, for children who are 8 to 19 months old and at high risk from RSV. Check with your provider for other options as well.

Modie said the RSV season has yet to start in Oregon.

“RSV transmission is just beginning to increase, and infection levels remain low,” Modie told the Capital Chronicle. 

Officials said this is a good time to take precautions.

“As the holiday season approaches and we gather with family and friends, RSV is expected to increase in our communities. Now is the time to plan how you will protect newborns and other young children you might be around as you gather with friends and family members,” Sutton said.

That means doing some of the things that people did against COVID or have long done to limit spread of the flu – staying home, limiting contact with others when sick, wearing a mask, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands and cleaning frequently touched surfaces. 

“We know it’s protective to wear a mask around a newborn, especially for family members meeting that baby for the first time,” Sutton said. “Masks are very effective at reducing transmission risk and keeping that child safe.”

There are also RSV vaccines for adults. One, Abrysvo, is approved for women who are 32 to 36 weeks pregnant and for those 60 and older. A second vaccine, Arexvy, is also approved for those 60 and older. Health authority officials said Oregon currently has a sufficient supply of both.

“We understand parents are frustrated over nirsevimab’s limited availability, but this shortage will not be permanent and access to the RSV immunizations will improve,” Sidelinger said. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.

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