Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Sunday suggested the peak season for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children has shifted because immunity waned during the pandemic.
The virus’s prevalence is nothing new, as it has been extremely common in young children for years, but federal data show that weekly cases have already risen to more than 4,000 even before the winter begins.
“We’re seeing a peak in cases right now,” Gottlieb told moderator Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“This is not unlike the season last year, where we also saw an early peak,” Gottlieb continued. “In those cases, some people ascribe it to the fact that children have been somewhat removed from the circulating pathogen, so you don’t have as much immunity in the population generally. So it’s changed the typical cycle for this virus.”
Historically, nearly everyone has been exposed to the pathogen by the time they’re 2 years old. The virus causes cold-like symptoms in healthy adults and older children while posing a more severe risk to younger children, especially for those less than 6 months old.
No vaccines are on the market for RSV, and medical professionals generally reserve monoclonal antibodies — the only known treatment for the virus — for extremely high-risk cases, like prematurely born infants and those with chronic heart or lung diseases.
“It’s especially concerning for those who are immunocompromised, children who are immunocompromised, or those in the neonatal intensive care unit, as well as older adults, elderly Americans or people who have other kinds of conditions that put them at risk,” Gottlieb said on CBS.
The surge in cases has already caused several children’s hospitals in the Washington, D.C. area to reach capacity.
Gottlieb on Sunday also suggested the upcoming flu season may be “more aggressive” than normal, but the former FDA chief touted the effectiveness of available flu vaccines and encouraged all eligible Americans to receive one.
“The predominant strain right now is H3N2, and the vaccine appears to be a good match for the strain,” Gottlieb said on CBS. “So the vaccine, based on what we see right now, based on the genetic sequence of the strain that’s circulating and the antigen that’s in the vaccine, does suggest that the vaccine is going to be quite protective this season. So it’s a good time to get it.”