Free RSV immunisation program coming to Queensland

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a terrible virus, particularly for babies, and the State Government's decision to rollout a free RSV immunisation program will make a big difference in keeping young children healthy and out of hospital, AMA Queensland Council Representative Professor Paul Griffin told ABC Radio Brisbane.

Transcript: AMA Queensland Council Representative, Prof Paul Griffin, ABC Radio Brisbane, Breakfast with Craig Zonca and Loretta Ryan, Monday 25 March 2024

Subjects: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) immunisation program

LORETTA RYAN: Have you or your child ever had RSV? For most people it’s like a common cold, but for infants or older adults it can be much more severe.

CRAIG ZONCA: And today the State Government is announcing a free RSV immunisation program for infants and young children. I think it was WA that was the first state to instigate this, and others now following suit. Dr Paul Griffin is an infectious diseases expert at the Mater Hospital. Paul, good morning to you.

PAUL GRIFFIN: Good morning, thanks for having me.

CRAIG ZONCA: Does this get your tick of approval effectively?

PAUL GRIFFIN: Absolutely. RSV is a terrible virus particularly for young children as well as the elderly. We’re lucky we’ve now got tools to combat it in both and funding was really the issue. So, it’s great to see our government putting that money towards investing in our children’s health. This is going to make a really big difference to all those children that would have ended up in hospital and getting really sick from this virus this year.

CRAIG ZONCA: The government’s saying this will come at a cost of $31 million dollars. You say it’s money well spent, what sort of case numbers do we see Paul, here in Queensland?

PAUL GRIFFIN: Last year we saw around 30,000 cases and about a third of those were in children under two. They’re the sort of children that will be protected by this monoclonal antibody that works a bit like a vaccine that will protect them. It will keep lots of kids out of hospitals, stop lots of kids getting complications like wheezing and other things. They all have a significant cost on our healthcare system, and it’s estimated that cost may be over $40 million so if anything, this is going to save us money and improve the health of those young children.

LORETTA RYAN: And as we’ve said, older adults or the elderly are susceptible to this as well, is there a vaccine for them at the moment?

PAUL GRIFFIN: Yeah, there is. So, we’ve recently had one vaccine approved and there’s actually a couple more on the way. Not sure exactly how we’re going to use that yet, because that’s still unfolding as well, but it’s likely that adults over 60 will be eligible for that vaccine fairly soon. And that will then mean that the two most vulnerable populations from this virus will be covered and that’s going to make a huge difference.

CRAIG ZONCA: Have you seen details of how this will roll out from the government at this point Paul?

PAUL GRIFFIN: Look, a little bit. I think that the granular details are still to be determined but my understanding is that it will be babies before they’re discharged from hospital ideally and then some other high-risk groups if they missed that opportunity might even be able to get it as sort of a catch up. But this is a long-acting antibody that provides protection beyond 150 days, so provided these babies get it before the start of the season, it should protect them for the entire season.

CRAIG ZONCA: And is it just a one dose vaccine or you said for the season? Is it once every year like we see with the flu vaccine for instance?

PAUL GRIFFIN: Yeah potentially. At the moment it’s just a single dose for babies in their first year of life and that will cover that season. It lasts probably upwards from 150 days, maybe a lot longer. And so, whether some babies, particularly those who are most vulnerable, like those who are premature or have lung disease, may even get one in the second year of life. That’s a possibility, but the thing with RSV is as babies get older, they’ve been exposed so many times that the risk actually declines. It’s really the first sort of pillar three years of life that the risk is the highest, and that’s why we’re targeting that really vulnerable group with this antibody.

LORETTA RYAN: Dr Paul Griffin with us, an infectious diseases expert at the Mater Hospital. Just a question from someone on the text line – whooping cough, is that an issue at the moment?

PAUL GRIFFIN: Yeah, it is. We’ve got so many things around at the moment, there’s a bit of influenza and RSV, there is whooping cough and of course we have to remind people there is a great vaccine for that as well. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the rates of that [those vaccinated] decline. There’s also been a bit of mycoplasma. So, we certainly have to remind people of all those more traditional respiratory things and if you’re unwell stay home, if you’re sick get tested and get seen by your GPs so you can get the right treatment.

CRAIG ZONCA: And Paul, I better actually ask, what does RSV stand for?

PAUL GRIFFIN: Respiratory syncytial virus. So, named after some changes that we can see under a microscope in cells that are infected. So, it’s a really nasty virus, very similar to the flu in some ways, but particularly targets those young children and the elderly and that’s why it’s such great news to hear that we’ve now got avenues to protect both of those groups.

CRAIG ZONCA: And if you do get it, are there long-term effects on lung function at all from it?

PAUL GRIFFIN: Yeah, there certainly can be in young children, things like wheezing and even a contribution to things like asthma are certainly recognised complications. And it’s thought this antibody will prevent all those complications, particularly preventing some of those young kids ending up in hospital which we see happen countless times per year. It’s a really nasty infection in that group and that’s why this news is great, and our government should be commended for putting up the funding for that. 

CRAIG ZONCA: Paul, really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much.

PAUL GRIFFIN: My pleasure, thank you.


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