Bioethics Blogs

Protecting Kids: Developing a Vaccine for Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Vaccines are one of biomedicine’s most powerful and successful tools for protecting against infectious diseases. While we currently have safe and effective vaccines to prevent measles, mumps, and a great many other common childhood diseases, we still lack a vaccine to guard against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)—a leading cause of pneumonia among infants and young children.

Each year, more than 2 million U.S. children under the age of 5 require medical care for pneumonia and other potentially life-threatening lower respiratory infections caused by RSV [1,2]. Worldwide, the situation is even worse, with more than 30 million infections estimated to occur annually, most among kids in developing countries, where as many as 200,000 deaths may result [3]. So, I’m pleased to report some significant progress in biomedical research’s long battle against RSV: encouraging early results from a clinical trial of an experimental vaccine specifically designed to outwit the virus.

In a study published in Science Translational Medicine [4], an NIH-supported team administered nose drops containing either the new experimental RSV vaccine or a placebo to 60 volunteers, 45 of whom were children under the age of 5. The researchers found that children who received the new vaccine mounted a stronger immune response against RSV than seen in previous tests of another experimental vaccine. What’s more, the study provided some very preliminary evidence that the new vaccine may confer protection against RSV in real-world settings during the fall and winter—the prime time for RSV infection in the United States.

The new vaccine, which was created through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and MedImmune, Gaithersburg, MD, consists of a live, weakened virus.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.