Over 2,000 paediatricians and healthcare professionals call on Government to introduce game-changing vaccine

2,004 healthcare professionals have signed an open letter urging the government to implement an immunisation programme for a common but sometimes fatal respiratory virus ahead of next Winter.
Young boy getting vaccinated in his arm

Doctors and nurses on the frontline, including Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) members, are urgently calling on the Government to implement a full respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) immunisation programme for both infants and adults and to ensure funding is available for the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to introduce full immunisation programmes.

RSV is a complex and common viral infection that causes respiratory tract infection, with most infants having been infected by their second birthday. The RSV epidemic peaks in December, when the health service is already at capacity and is responsible for around 33,000 NHS hospitalisations of under-fives annually and death of between 20 and 30 young children every year.  

The most recent winter has been particularly bad for RSV cases, which have come at a time when the NHS is already struggling with an historically large backlog of cases and industrial action. However, despite the fact RSV brings health services almost to a halt every winter, immunisations against the virus are not made available. 
Following a series of successful trials the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised the UK Government to begin vaccinating against RSV. 

Evidence shows that rolling out an RSV vaccine to infants could result in 108,000 fewer GP consultations, 74,000 A&E visits and 20,000 fewer hospitalisations solely in those under one. Sanofi has estimated that RSV in children under 5 in the UK costs £80 million each year in loss of earnings, NHS costs and reduced productivity. 

In their letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, paediatricians and healthcare professionals are clear that by implementing this immunisation programme, the government would relieve pressure on NHS services this winter and reduce infant and child mortality. 

RCPCH President, Dr Camilla Kingdon, said: 

Every year our child health services grind to a halt with high levels of RSV and other winter bugs. We now have an opportunity to turn the tide on this trend. The implementation of an RSV immunisation programme would be an absolute game changer, not just for the NHS and doctors on the ground, but also for parents who we know struggle with unwell children throughout the winter period. 

Reducing RSV cases annually will also allow us to focus on reducing waiting times for children and young people, a listed priority for our government. Child health teams are working tirelessly to address the growing backlogs, but without proper support, their efforts are unable to make a meaningful dent in the problem. 

We simply cannot have another winter like the last. The Chancellor and Health Secretary are staring a no-brainer in the face, they must heed the advice of doctors. Together with 2000 of my colleagues, I urge them to seize this opportunity and not wait until after the upcoming election. RSV won’t wait. 

Professor Ian Sinha, Consultant Respiratory Paediatrician, and member of the Asthma + Lung UK Council of Healthcare Professionals, said: 

RSV is a widespread threat to infants. The lack of government action following the JCVI's recommendation for a vaccination programme is a blow to children and young people in the UK, who already have worse respiratory outcomes than those in other rich countries. The evidence unequivocally shows that vaccination is effective – not only to relieve this significant burden on the NHS but also to protect young children. In young children, serious respiratory infections impair the development of their lung at a very vulnerable time and can therefore cause lifelong respiratory complications.

The government possesses the necessary resources to deliver RSV vaccinations, which have been shown to be cost-effective, and which have been rolled out in other countries. We need swift and decisive action now to ensure there is time to implement this programme in the autumn. Delaying further will complicate procurement and delivery, leaving thousands of infants needlessly vulnerable to this dangerous infection next winter.

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