RSV shot in short supply as cases rise in Arkansas

For now, only the sickest get vaccine

This electron microscope image provided by the National Institutes of Health shows human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) virions, colorized blue, and anti-RSV F protein/gold antibodies, colorized yellow, shedding from the surface of human lung cells. The U.S. approved the first vaccine for RSV on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 shots to protect older adults against a respiratory virus thats most notorious for attacking babies but endangers their grandparents, too. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH via AP)
This electron microscope image provided by the National Institutes of Health shows human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) virions, colorized blue, and anti-RSV F protein/gold antibodies, colorized yellow, shedding from the surface of human lung cells. The U.S. approved the first vaccine for RSV on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 shots to protect older adults against a respiratory virus thats most notorious for attacking babies but endangers their grandparents, too. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH via AP)


A shot approved this year to protect babies against respiratory syncytial virus was in limited supply on Thursday amid a seasonal uptick in Arkansas of RSV and other respiratory illnesses.

"Because of limited manufacturer supply, we are reserving the RSV vaccine approved by the FDA [in July] for the sickest children in our care, including newborns in our NICU," Dr. Rick Barr, executive vice president and chief clinical and academic officer at Arkansas Children's, said in a statement.

"As supply improves, the vaccine will become available to more patients."

The CDC announced Thursday that an additional 77,000 doses of the shot, from AstraZeneca and Sanofi, were being released to be distributed to physicians and hospitals through the Vaccines for Children program.

"CDC and FDA will continue to be in close contact with manufacturers to ensure the availability of additional doses through end of this year and for early 2024 to meet the demand," the CDC said in a news release.

Sold under the brand name Beyfortus, the monoclonal antibody was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on July 17 for the prevention of RSV in children up to 2 years old.

The next month, the CDC recommended the shot for infants younger than 8 months who are entering their first RSV season, as well for as children up to 19 months old who are at an increased risk for severe RSV disease and entering their second season.

Citing the limited supply of doses, however, the CDC in October advised doctors to prioritize the shots for children under 6 months old and older infants with health conditions putting them at high risk of severe illness from RSV.

It said an older drug, palivizumab, should be used for children 8-19 months old who are eligible to receive it.

According to the CDC, RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms but can also cause serious illness, especially in infants and older adults.

The FDA earlier this year approved the first vaccines for RSV, from GSK and Pfizer, for people age 60 and older. It also approved Pfizer's vaccine for pregnant women as a way of providing antibodies to children before they are born.

Despite the rise in cases, spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said Arkansas Children's hospitals in Little Rock and Springdale will "have capacity and bed availability," though they are busy, and patients should expect longer wait times than typical for nonurgent cases in the emergency room.

"Our hospitals, clinics and emergency departments are busy but well equipped and prepared. As the state's only pediatric health system, we remain vigilant to ensure we are available for every child who needs us," Barr said.

Dr. Amanda Novack, an infectious disease physician at Little Rock-based Baptist Health, said Baptist has been seeing an increase in RSV cases as well but "in general, nothing alarming as of now."

She added that the RSV season has appeared later this year compared to last year, with the health system seeing about as many cases in the first two weeks of November as it did the entire month of October.

Across the state, Baptist saw 72 patients who tested positive for RSV in October and 142 this month, with "very few hospitalizations," she said.

Ly is a Report for America Corps member.