Infants Need Protection Against RSV: Charting a Path Beyond COVID


Tonya Villafana, Vice President, Global Franchise Head, Infection

As we find ourselves well into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still complex questions we need to answer to gain a deeper understanding of the virus’s global impact, which may take months or years to fully realize. Among the questions being raised is how public health measures used to stop the spread of COVID-19 could affect the spread of other respiratory viruses. 

We can very clearly see some stark changes with one common seasonal virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – most notably a significant decrease in reported cases in some countries since public health measures for COVID-19 were put into place.1-3 RSV typically circulates during Autumn through Spring months in temperate regions but can vary by geography and from year-to-year.4 Unlike COVID-19, it’s important to note that infants and young children are more likely to get RSV infection than adults.5-7 Furthermore, the difficulty in predicting which infants will get serious RSV poses challenges.8 Globally, RSV is a leading cause of hospitalizations in infants and the most common cause of ALRTI such as bronchiolitis and viral pneumonia.9-13  RSV in infants and young children causes a significant burden to healthcare systems worldwide every year, particularly in hospitals.14

The remarkable work of scientists worldwide has helped the development of new and effective ways of controlling COVID-19,15 and as a result, some parts of the world are beginning to ease public health measures. While this is good news, there has been increasing communications on the resurgence of RSV during the easing of COVID-19 public health measures.2 This resurgence seems to be linked with an increase of RSV cases in children. It’s possible that the safety measures around the pandemic may potentially help prevent RSV infections, however more surveillance is needed to understand the long-term impact. We must not forget, during this COVID pandemic, that most infants remain at risk from RSV disease.16-18

As scientists continue their invaluable work to help us learn more about potential shifts in seasonal patterns of RSV, the role of healthcare professionals is crucial in educating families about the need to protect infants against RSV. Despite its prevalence, there is low awareness and health literacy around the risks of RSV.19 Collaborating with healthcare professionals to raise an understanding of RSV, its symptoms and prevention stand at the core of the work AstraZeneca and Sanofi Pasteur are doing together. 

The pandemic showed the world there are few limits to what science can achieve on behalf of humanity when there is unprecedented collaboration across healthcare communities. We believe in the work of scientists forging a brighter future where infants worldwide could be protected from RSV.  


1. Britton, P. N., Hu, N., Saravanos, G., Shrapnel, J., Davis, J., & Snelling, T. (2018, September 18). COVID-19 public health measures and respiratory syncytial virus. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from Accessed May 2021.  

2. Varela, F. H., Scotta, M., Polese-Bonatto, M., Sartor, I., Ferreira, C., Fernandes, I., Stein, R. (n.d.). Absence of detection of Rsv and influenza during the COVID-19 pandemic in a brazilian Cohort: Likely role of lower transmission in the community. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from Accessed May 2021. 

3. Trenholme, A., Webb, R., Lawrence, S., Arrol, S., Taylor, S., Ameratunga, S., Byrnes, C. A. (2021). COVID-19 and Infant Hospitalizations for Seasonal Respiratory Virus Infections, New Zealand, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 27(2), 641-643. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from Accessed May 2021.  

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Transmission and Prevention of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). (2020, December 18). Accessed May 2021.  

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV): Infants and Young Children. Accessed May 2021. 

6.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID 19): Symptoms of Coronavirus. Accessed May 2021. 

7.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID 19): Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed May 2021. 

8. Hall CB, et al. Respiratory syncytial virus-associated hospitalizations among children less than 24 months of age. Pediatrics. 2013 Aug;132(2):e341-8. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-0303. Epub 2013 Jul 22. PMID: 23878043.

9. Shi T, et al. Global, regional, and national disease burden estimates of acute lower respiratory infections due to respiratory syncytial virus in young children in 2015: a systematic review and modelling study. Lancet 2017; 390: 946–58.  

10. Rha B et al. Respiratory Syncytial Virus–Associated Hospitalizations Among Young Children: 2015–2016. Pediatrics. 2020;146(1):e20193611.

11. Leader S., et al. Recent trends in severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) among US infants, 1997 to 2000. J Pediatrics. 2003; vol 143:S127-S132. 

12.Hall CB. The Burgeoning Burden of Respiratory Syncytial Virus Among Children. Infect Disord Drug Targets. 2012;12(2):92-97 

13.Reeves RM et al. Estimating the burden of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) on respiratory hospital admissions in children less than five years of age in England, 2007-2012. Influenza Other Respir Viruses. 2017;11(2):122-129 

14.Zhang S et al. Cost of Respiratory Syncytial Virus-Associated Acute Lower Respiratory Infection Management in Young Children at the Regional and Global Level: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Infect Dis. 2020. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiz683 

15.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC's Response to Covid-19. (2021, February 12). Accessed May 2021.  

16.Glezen WP et al. Risk of primary infection and reinfection with respiratory syncytial virus. Am J Dis Child. 1986;140(6):543-546  

17. Collins PL, et al. Viral and host factors in human respiratory syncytial virus pathogenesis. J Virol. 2008 Mar;82(5):2040-55. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01625-07. Epub 2007 Oct 10. PMID: 17928346; PMCID: PMC2258918.

18. Adamko DJ, Friesen M. Why does respiratory syncytial virus aappear to cause asthma? Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2012;130 (1):101-102

19. RSV AWARENESS: A National Poll of Parents & Health Care Providers. National Coalition for Infant Health. May 2019. Accessed May 2021. 

Veeva ID: Z4-32620
Date of Preparation: May 2021