New vaccine trial starts in South West hospitals to protect babies against RSV

  • Watch Jacquie Bird's full report above

An Exeter mum's terrifying ordeal may soon be a thing of the past - thanks to a new drug trial happening in the South West.

A groundbreaking new study hopes to reduce the number of babies needing hospital treatment for respiratory infections by up to 75 per cent.

The Harmonie Study, which is being run across Europe, aims to prevent the infections caused by the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) by giving a single immunisation.

What is RSV?

RSV stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus. It is a common seasonal virus which nearly all babies will have sometime before their second birthday.

While most babies will experience a mild illness, like a cold, it can lead to more severe lung problems such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia in some infants.

Alfie Walker needed to be ventilated after becoming very ill with RSV when he was just six months old.

His mum Rachel Walker told ITV News West Country that he initially seemed under the weather with a cold - but his condition had deteriorated rapidly.

"It was massively traumatic," she said. "For Alfie and for us."

Alfie Walker and mum Rachel Credit: ITV News Westcountry

She added: "He was ventilated for seven days and unconscious for that whole time. Obviously having a machine breathe for him.

"I'd say it's every parent's worst nightmare isn't it, seeing your child so helpless and fighting.

"If this vaccine can stop other kids going through that, and stop other families going through that, then it's an amazing breakthrough."

Alfie made a full and quick recovery.

Now Dr Sian Ludman, who is one of the doctors leading the study, says taking the trauma of hospitalisation away from families would be one of the greatest benefits of the vaccine.

Consultant Paediatrician Dr Sian Ludman Credit: ITV News Westcountry

She said: "You have to take time off work, you have to take care of your children when they are poorly, so as a parent myself that would be an enormous benefit to me."

RSV is the most common cause of hospitalisation in babies, and the hope is the vaccine will reduce that number by as much as 75%.

"Over the winter, we have bed pressures," Dr Ludman said. "It's well known in hospitals that that's our busiest time... so to be able to free up more beds, to be able to focus our resources on those who are very sick, would be fantastic."

Early trials of the immunisation have shown success and, perhaps more importantly for parents, have proved the drug is safe.

Dr Ludman said 3,000 babies have already had this vaccine and it has proved safe.

She said: "There's been a bit of soreness in the leg for example but we've not seen anything coming through that would make me worry about giving it to children that come into clinic in front of me."

Hospitals in Yeovil, Somerset, Exeter and Plymouth will be taking part in the study along with a number of GP surgeries in Cornwall.

The trial is looking for newborn babies up to the age of one to take part. It will involve a single immunisation and then a small number of follow-up activities.

To take part or find out more information visit