Press release: Doctors trial new vaccine to protect babies against life-threatening respiratory infections

Baby hand

Doctors in Southampton are trialling a new vaccine that could prevent babies developing a virus which can cause life-threatening respiratory infections.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a leading cause of serious lung inflammation in babies and can sometimes develop into pneumonia.

Although it can affect people of all ages, it often causes only mild cold-like symptoms among younger adults and older children.

In babies under six months it can lead to severe lung infections such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia – resulting in around 16,000 hospital admissions and 30 deaths a year among babies in the UK.

During winter the virus can cause epidemics responsible for up to one in six hospital admissions in children under a year old and, long-term, can lead to persistent wheeze and asthma.

Now, in a two-year study taking place in 18 countries worldwide funded by GlaxoSmithKline, researchers will recruit 150 babies – around 50 from across Europe – aged six to seven months to receive the vaccine.

The vaccine used in the study – ChAd155-RSV – has been successfully tested in adults and is currently being trialled in toddlers aged 12 to 23 months who have previously had RSV.

Saul Faust“RSV is a highly infectious respiratory virus which affects the airways and, while it often results in a simple cold for adults, it constitutes a real danger for young babies,” explained Professor Saul Faust (right), director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility and principal investigator.

“This is because their airways are narrower and they struggle to fight against the infection, leaving them at risk of severe inflammation of the lungs and potentially the development of pneumonia.”

Prof Faust, who is a consultant in paediatric immunology and infectious diseases at University Hospital Southampton, said the study marked “an important step” in the bid to tackle RSV.

“Despite the prevalence of RSV infections in infants – more than 16,000 hospital admissions a year in the UK – there is currently no vaccine available to protect babies under a year old.

“It is vitally important we find a way to reduce the risk in this vulnerable patient group and this international study is an important step towards achieving that.”

Any parents interested in enrolling their child onto the study can contact the research team on 023 8120 4989 or by email at uhs.recruitmentcrf@nhs.net for more information.

Posted on Thursday 3 October 2019