Pregnant women and elderly to be offered respiratory virus jab on NHS

Pregnant woman
Pregnant woman

Pregnant women and the elderly will be offered a vaccine on the NHS to protect against a respiratory virus that can cause serious complications.

From September, anyone aged 75 and over (as of Sept 1) will be offered one dose of Pfizer’s jab Abrysvo to protect against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The NHS in England is being urged to vaccinate as many people as possible in September and October before winter starts and RSV circulates more widely.

All women who are at least 28 weeks pregnant on Sept 1 will also be offered a single dose of the vaccine to protect themselves and their babies.

In Scotland, the programmes will run from August, with Northern Ireland and Wales expected to follow.

Premature babies at greater risk

RSV causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract.

In healthy adults and older children, it typically causes cold-like symptoms.

However, babies are at risk of severe infection with RSV and can need admission to hospital, particularly in the winter months.

Similarly, premature babies, older adults, people with heart and lung disease or anyone with a weak immune system is at greater risk.

The new NHS vaccine programmes in England are expected to be delivered through GP surgeries and pharmacies.

A one-off catch-up campaign for those already aged 75 to 79 will also be launched, with the aim of vaccinating as many as possible by the end of August 2025.

Dr Conall Watson, consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “We encourage everyone who’s offered an RSV vaccine to take it up when the vaccination programme starts in September.

“RSV is a common respiratory virus that can cause serious lung infections, like bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

The vaccine will help prevent older adults and small babies from developing more serious complications from the virus whilst helping to reduce pressure on NHS services during the busy winter months.”

The new programmes follow guidance from the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation, which advises the UK Government on jabs.

An NHS spokesman said: “The NHS will pull out all the stops to ensure that people have protection against this nasty virus ahead of winter, with GPs preparing to offer this new vaccine to vulnerable groups as quickly as possible, so please come forward when you’re invited.”

‘Delighted vaccine calls have been heard’

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said RSV is so common that most children have been infected with it by their second birthday.

It said the RSV epidemic peaks in December and is responsible for around 33,000 NHS hospital admissions of under-fives and between 20 and 30 deaths of young children every year.

Dr Mike McKean, from the RCPCH, said: “We’re delighted that the calls of thousands of paediatricians and health professionals for a much-needed RSV programme have been heard.

“Campaigning for an RSV vaccine has been a key issue for the college for many years now and today’s announcement represents a huge step forward for child health and the paediatric workforce in England and Scotland.

“This newly announced programme has the potential to transform child health services during the winter months by reducing hospital admissions and could even save young lives.

“A reduction in RSV cases annually would allow us to focus on the many other children and young people requiring emergency care over winter months.

“Vaccinations play a crucial role in protecting child health, but we are seeing a worrying decline in uptake across many routine childhood immunisations.

“As paediatricians, we want to continue to champion the use of vaccinations to win the battle against these dangerous and preventable infections.”