19 March 2024

WA babies first to be protected from No. 1 cause of infant hospitalisations nationally

| James Day
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A baby, with wires and tubes attached, lying in a hospital bed

WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson made a post about Hazel (above). At two months old, she contracted RSV, which began with congestion and ended up putting her in an induced coma for eight days. Photo: Amber-Jade Sanderson/Facebook.

West Australian infants aged under eight months are now eligible for immunisation against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a disease that infects more than 65 per cent of all newborns in the first year of their lives.

Approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the nirsevimab jab provides newborns with immediate protection against RSV for at least five months, which is the duration of an average season for the disease, usually between May and September.

From next month, all GP practices, community health clinics and Aboriginal medical services across WA will be able to provide childhood immunisations for these newborns. This includes those aged between eight and 19 months, as they remain at greater risk of being infected with severe RSV.

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RSV hospitalises about 1000 babies in the state every year and remains the leading cause of infant hospitalisation in the country.

While it can impact the whole community, newborns are especially vulnerable due to their tiny airways, which put them at greater risk of developing serious outcomes and even childhood asthma.

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said that was why the RSV immunisation program would offer WA families a free dose for their newborns before they left the hospital.

The antibody was introduced to multiple countries in the Northern Hemisphere last year, with high uptake among eligible infants that would often breach 80 per cent coverage. During clinical trials with nirsevimab, these jurisdictions proved the immunisation was about 80 per cent effective at preventing RSV-associated infant hospitalisations.

“We have seen how effective nirsevimab has been in the Northern Hemisphere and we are excited to be providing WA families with an opportunity to protect their young infants from serious illness and hospitalisation,” Ms Sanderson said.

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WA’s Government is spending $11 million for the immunisation rollout, and expects it to prevent about 700 RSV-related infant hospitalisations, around 3000 emergency department presentations and 4000 GP consultations this year.

Premier Roger Cook said the government was working to protect the youngest and most vulnerable West Australians from RSV, the No. 1 illness that could put their baby in hospital.

“One dose of nirsevimab will protect infants immediately and prevent hundreds of babies from being hospitalised with RSV this winter,” he said.

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