As COVID-19 continues, it’s more critical than ever to protect vulnerable patients from RSV


Tonya Villafana, Global Franchise Head, Infection

As the world continues to adjust to the new normal during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and nearly every aspect of our lives is affected – we have an opportunity to rethink our healthcare strategies and treatment approaches for all illnesses – particularly other respiratory diseases.

COVID-19 has brought to light some difficult truths about the limitations of healthcare resources available to combat this novel virus for which no vaccine and no treatments exist.1,2

The significant strain COVID-19 has placed on hospitals and emergency care settings has highlighted the value of treatment approaches across many diseases that can help reduce hospitalisations and unnecessary burden on healthcare systems around the world.

Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, respiratory diseases requiring medical treatment have been associated with increased costs to the healthcare system.3 The importance of medicines and preventative options, early disease identification programmes, lifestyle and dietary measures that can keep patients out of the hospital is even greater now.

This is particularly true for some of our most vulnerable patients we have a responsibility to protect – infants and children – against an incredibly common but less-known respiratory infection called respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

What many people often don’t know until they themselves are new parents (and even then, some are unfortunately not informed), is that RSV is a common seasonal pathogen that will affect nearly all babies by their second birthday.4,5 RSV is the leading cause of acute lower respiratory tract infection, such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia, in infants and young children.6

While most babies with RSV will only experience mild, cold-like symptoms and can be treated successfully in an outpatient setting, some cases of RSV can be severe and may require hospitalisation.3

Globally, in 2015, there were approximately 33 million cases of acute RSV LRTI leading to three million hospitalisations and nearly 60,000 deaths of children younger than five.5

Although the biopharmaceutical industry, in collaboration with world governments and research institutes, is working at an unprecedented pace to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and treatments for the virus, we know more time and research will be required before diminishing the risks we face today.

Until then, it’s important that we do all we can to continue protecting ourselves and our loved ones from respiratory illnesses like RSV. For now that may mean increased personal and family hygiene practices, social distancing and closer monitoring of potential RSV symptoms.  

As work towards a COVID vaccine continues, we also remain hopeful we can one day bring forward new options to help prevent RSV. I’m proud to lead a team at AstraZeneca that’s exploring potential new RSV prevention pathways, along with our partners at Sanofi Pasteur, who share our dedication to improving RSV outcomes for infants worldwide – during these unprecedented times and beyond.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Information for Clinicians on Investigational Therapeutics for Patients with COVID-19. April 2020. Accessed July 2020.

2. World Health Organization. Coronavirus. Accessed July 2020.

3. Leistner, R, et al. “Attributable Costs of Ventilator-Associated Lower Respiratory Tract Infection (LRTI) Acquired on Intensive Care Units: a Retrospectively Matched Cohort Study.” Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control. 2013;2(1):13., doi:10.1186/2047-2994-2-13.

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RSV in Infants and Young Children. Accessed July 2020.

5. Adamko DJ, Friesen M. Why does respiratory syncytial virus appear to cause asthma?
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2012;130(1):101-102. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2012.05.024.

6. 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 (10098): 946-958. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30938-8.

Veeva ID: Z4-25734
Date of preparation: July 2020