Respiratory syncytial virus | Less than 1% of seniors vaccinated

Despite the increased circulation of respiratory viruses, less than 1% of elderly people in Quebec have received the vaccine against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to data obtained by The Press. The cost of the vaccine, not covered by the government, can reach $300.

Barely 6,000 people aged 60 or over received the RSV vaccine in Quebec between September 28 and January 7, according to data from the vaccination registry of the Infocentre de santé publique du Québec. That’s about 1 in 400 people.

“There’s no point having a really good vaccine if no one uses it. In my opinion, it would be a monumental failure,” laments the Dr Donald Vinh, infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at the McGill University Health Center.

He explains this low coverage by the price of the vaccine, which is not covered in Quebec. Some pharmacies offer the vaccine for a price generally between $260 and $300. On the Clic Santé platform, some pharmacies in the Montreal region offer it. Outside the mainland, the offer is much more limited.

In the United States, 18% of people aged 60 and older had gotten the RSV vaccine as of January 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is significantly more than in Quebec, where 0.2% obtained it.

“This is not much and we should aim to increase this coverage,” also believes Alain Lamarre, professor-researcher specializing in immunology and virology at the National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS).

“Despite recent progress in the development of effective RSV vaccines, much remains to be done in Canada to promote and support better access to these vaccines among older Canadians,” reads a report from the National Institute on Aging at Metropolitan University of Toronto published in October.

A vaccine that is not covered

In August, Health Canada approved Arexvy, a vaccine aimed at preventing RSV-related respiratory illnesses in adults aged 60 and over. Later, in January, the agency approved the Abrysvo vaccine by Pfizer which is also aimed at adults aged 60 and over, but also at pregnant women aged 32 to 36 weeks, in order to protect their infants from birth until at the age of 6 months.

” THE [ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux] is currently awaiting the opinion of the INSPQ Quebec Immunization Committee before making the decision to integrate the RSV vaccine into its Quebec Immunization Program and thus distribute it free of charge to the clienteles for whom it would be necessary,” said The Press the public affairs advisor – relations with the media and the Ministry’s network, Noémie Vanheuverzwijn.

The data from the Quebec Immunization Committee “will be available over the coming weeks and months,” indicated the national director of public health, Dr Luc Boileau, at a press conference on Wednesday. Depending on the results, Public Health will recommend or not to the Minister of Health to cover the vaccine.


The national director of public health, Dr Luc Boileau, at a press conference, Wednesday

For the moment, we are not suggesting that the government cover [le vaccin]but if people want to get it, it’s available.

The Dr Luc Boileau, national director of public health

The Dr Donald Vinh, however, affirms that the two vaccines offer “excellent protection”. “I hope that all the provinces, and not just Quebec, come to common sense and agree to cover them for people at risk,” he argues.

The Ontario government, for its part, has decided to offer the RSV vaccine free of charge to people aged 60 and over at risk of serious infections, particularly those living in long-term care homes, who are on hemodialysis or who are recipients of solid organ transplants.

Protect against severe complications

Although respiratory syncytial virus usually causes a mild illness with cold-like symptoms, the infection can progress to lower respiratory illness that can lead to hospitalization. Infants, people aged 65 and over, and immunocompromised people are particularly likely to develop a severe form of RSV disease.

It is well known that RSV can cause major, if not catastrophic, problems in young children, but also in the elderly.

The Dr Donald Vinh, infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at the McGill University Health Center

The virus can attack the lungs and respiratory tract, causing the patient to be hospitalized.

“RSV is particularly problematic because it is more contagious than seasonal flu,” reads the report from the National Institute on Aging. A recent study also showed that adults aged 60 and over infected with RSV had a risk of hospitalization and mortality similar to that of people suffering from the flu, the report indicates. Another study found that the mortality rate among older adults hospitalized for RSV infection in the United States is 6 to 8%.

It is also possible to be infected with RSV repeatedly. Reinfections are generally less severe in older children and adults, but can have serious health consequences in older adults.

“Vaccination remains relevant”

RSV, COVID-19 and seasonal flu (influenza) are still very present in the population. At a press conference on Wednesday, the Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, invited Quebecers, in particular the most vulnerable people, to make “one last effort on vaccination, particularly for influenza”. “Vaccination remains relevant,” also declared the Dr Boileau.


The Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, at a press conference, Wednesday

More than 1.7 million Quebecers received the influenza vaccine between September 28 and January 7, significantly more than the 6,000 people who received the RSV vaccine during the same period. Among them, around 81,000 are minors, 464,000 are between 18 and 59 years old, and 1.2 million are over 60 years old.

The COVID-19 vaccine generated slightly less enthusiasm: 1.1 million people aged 60 and over, 372,000 people aged 18 to 59 and 36,000 children received it during the period from September 28 to January 7.

With the collaboration of Léa Carrier, The Press

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