Ministers urged to rollout 'game-changer' vaccine to stop babies admitted to hospital unnecessarily

It follows a trial led by University Hospital Southampton which showed an RSV vaccine reduced numbers needing hospital treatment by 83%. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Leading children’s doctors have implored the Government to introduce a “game-changer” vaccine which could prevent thousands of babies and pre-schoolers from being admitted to hospital every year and help relieve winter pressure in the NHS.

It follows a trial led by University Hospital Southampton which showed an RSV vaccine reduced numbers needing hospital treatment by 83%.

In June, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised ministers that they should press ahead with a vaccination programme for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, for both babies and older adults.

Leading children’s doctors said it was “too late” for the programme to be rolled out this winter but urged ministers to ensure the programme was in place for next year.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said every year RSV grinds children’s hospital services to a “halt” and that a vaccination programme could ease the burden of the virus on both families and the pressures that it causes the NHS.

Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the RCPCH said: “RSV is a massive problem every single winter. We’ve now got a way out of it. We just need to get on and do it.

“We were thrilled when the JCVI published their guidance in support of a national rollout of an RSV vaccination programme and since then we’ve been waiting. I’m not reassured that much has happened in terms of next steps.

“I’m not in any way diminishing the fact that some very careful thought needs to be gone through to understand what’s going to be the most efficient way of doing this and then the practicalities of how to do that.

“If we really want to make a difference for next winter – because this winter we’re clearly too late to influence in any way in terms of RSV – we’ve really got to get our skates on.

“And so, as a college you know our message is very simple: please can we make this a priority?

“It could be a game-changer for the 2024/25 winter, but if we really want to make a difference for that winter, we’ve got to hurry up and make some decisions and get cracking.”

The Government has been urged to roll out a ‘game-changing’ vaccine for RSV Credit: David Cheskin/PA

Dr Kingdon, a neonatologist, said that at this time of year children’s wards are “pretty much full”, predominantly with RSV cases.

Asked what the hold-up for the rollout of the programme could be, she said: “I think the assumption is ‘children are largely healthy and RSV is just a virus’, and to some extent that’s not untrue, but actually for two months of the year it literally grinds acute care for children to a halt.”

She added: “I do think children often are just forgotten, which is why as a Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health we are campaigning so actively for this to be made a priority and to really be focused on now that we’ve got the JCVI decision.”

RSV is a common respiratory bug that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, and most children will have the virus before they are two.

But for a number of children, it can lead to severe disease or even death.

In infants, the virus can cause bronchiolitis which leads to the inflammation of the small airways and significant breathing difficulties.

A single shot can help stop babies getting chest infections for up to six months. Credit: PA

According to the Oxford Vaccine Group, RSV accounts for around 450,000 GP appointments, 29,000 hospital admissions and 83 deaths every year in children and adolescents in the UK, the majority in infants.

Each year in the UK the virus circulates in the winter months and typically peaks in December.

Studies have shown that an RSV jab is up to 83.2% effective at preventing RSV hospital admissions among babies.

And modelling suggests that rolling out an RSV vaccine to infants could result in 108,000 fewer GP consultations, 74,000 fewer A&E visits and 20,000 fewer hospital admissions a year, solely in those aged under one.

Symptoms include a runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing.

Parents are urged to seek emergency help if babies are not drinking enough, if a baby is visibly working hard to breathe, or has pauses between breaths or starts to turn blue.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working with the UK Health Security Agency and NHS England to explore the feasibility and options for implementing an effective RSV programme for infants and older adults, in line with JCVI advice.

“We recognise the impact RSV has, both on individuals and on the capacity of our NHS services, and a final decision on whether or how a vaccination programme could be introduced will be made in due course.”

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