Immunizing mothers might protect babies from a dangerous virus.
Vaccines against respiratory syncytial virus could protect millions of young children
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a disease that causes infections of the lower respiratory tract, mainly in infants and young children. Every year, RSV is responsible for over 30 million new acute lower respiratory infection episodes and up to 199,000 deaths in children under five years old. Nearly all of these deaths—99 percent—occur in low-income countries. The virus is so widespread that, in the United States, nearly all children become infected with RSV before their second birthdays.
Despite these impacts, no vaccine exists for RSV. This leaves children vulnerable to infection and puts a heavy burden on caregivers and health care systems. This is a particular problem in the developing world, where medical resources are limited and associated costs cause great economic hardship. The development of a vaccine against RSV is critical to protecting infants and children from this far-reaching disease, particularly during the earliest months of life.
Finding a way to prevent RSV
PATH is investigating promising new vaccine technologies with the potential to help control RSV in the developing world through prevention. Because infants need the most immediate protection from RSV—peak hospitalization rates occur in children from birth to five months of age—the goal of our RSV project is to advance the development of vaccines that can prevent serious RSV illness and death as early as possible in these youngest of children.
The virus is so widespread in the United States that nearly all children become infected with RSV before their second birthdays.
Maternal immunization is an approach that holds promise for providing immediate protection for infants. Studies have shown that administering certain vaccines to pregnant women can help improve the mother-to-child transmission of antibodies. These antibodies can provide critical protection during the early stage of a newborn’s life, when direct vaccination is not an effective option.
Power through partnerships
We’re exploring partnerships with vaccine developers and researchers from industry, academia, and other institutions. Our aim is to advance the development of low-cost RSV vaccines that are safe, effective, and affordable for use in maternal immunization strategies appropriate for the developing world.
We're exploring subunit vaccines, which utilize only specific pieces of RSV to induce an appropriate immune response. We're also looking at vaccines based on engineered particles. These include virus-like particles, which are designed to look like viruses but contain no genetic material and do not cause disease. We are also considering currently licensed adjuvants, or additives, as a potential way to improve immune responses to RSV vaccine candidates.
Photo: PATH/Natawit Thani.