For residents over 60, Health Canada has approved its first vaccine to 'flatten the curve' against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
RSV, a virus commonly known for causing pneumonia and bronchitis, typically hospitalizes seniors and causes severe illness over other demographics from the fall season to spring.
On Friday, manufacturer GSK reported its vaccine, Arexvy, achieved an 82% effectiveness rate in preventing lower respiratory tract disease during a randomized clinical trial.
The company claimed the jab is 94% effective at preventing illness in seniors with underlying medical conditions.
However, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) emailed The Canadian Press that Arexvy would likely be available for "limited use during the 2023/2024 fall/winter respiratory virus season."
They said the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) would not likely issue guidance on the vaccine for seniors until next year.
Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and University Health Network hospitals in Toronto, welcomed the vaccine's approval.
"When we think about RSV, we often think about how it can be problematic in children under one year of age. But when you look at all the data that's come out, it shows that the mortality rate in older adults is six-fold that of what you'd have in a child under one, which is the most at-risk pediatric population," he said.
Except for the elderly and infants, most people with RSV, including children, contract a mild infection that goes away within a couple of weeks, according to the PHAC's website.
According to Sinha, healthcare data shows that unvaccinated seniors pose a significant risk of contracting the disease over younger children. He attributes this to a weakened immune system and underlying conditions of the lungs.
As of publication, there is no RSV vaccine for children. However, antibody injections are available for high-risk babies to prevent serious illness.
In the meantime, "it will be up to provinces and territories to determine if their current RSV programs would be adjusted to include Arexvy," said PHAC.
"The Government of Canada will work with provinces and territories to determine potential demand and timelines should they decide to introduce Arexvy into their RSV vaccination programs."
Sinha told The Canadian Press he would advise all seniors to get the RSV jab regardless of NACI guidance.
The director clarified that if limited stock becomes a reality this season, governments should prioritize all long-term care residents "given their heightened vulnerability to RSV infections."