Free RSV immunisations for babies amid surge in cases

Savannah Meacham |

RSV is the number one cause of hospitalisation for children aged five and under in Australia.
RSV is the number one cause of hospitalisation for children aged five and under in Australia.

Queensland babies will be able to get a free and potentially life-saving immunisation for an infectious respiratory virus, as case numbers soar across the state.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is highly contagious and often causes mild to moderate illness in young children and babies, with symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever and aches.

It is the number one cause of hospitalisation for children aged five and under in Australia, with a quarter of those children needing intensive care.

Health Minister Shannon Fentiman announced newborn babies would be eligible for a free jab from April under a $31 million program.

“It is not only about making sure our newborns are healthy and protected against RSV it is also about reducing the pressure on hospitals, particularly coming into winter months,” she told reporters on Monday.

Cases have doubled this year, with 7000 reported so far including 2000 children under two.

Vaccine nirsevimab will be rolled out from next month to newborns in hospitals, infants up to eight months of age and babies with complex medical conditions up to 19 months.

But there is a global shortage meaning the most at-risk babies will be prioritised as Ms Fentiman expects the supply the Queensland government has secured will last six to eight months.

For Brisbane mum Holly Robbins, the free immunisation announcement is important so other families don’t go through what she did when she watched her eight-month-old daughter Rebecca spend 11 days in hospital with RSV.

Queensland Health Minister Shannon Fentiman (R) and Holly Robbins
Holly Robbins’ (L) eight-month-old daughter Rebecca spent 11 days in hospital with RSV. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

“It is heartbreaking watching your child go through that and not being able to help in any way,” she said.

The young girl now visits a respiratory specialist every three months to check on her health.

The Royal Australian College of GPs welcomed the free immunisation announcement amid the surge in the virus.

“This RSV immunisation rollout will save lives,” Queensland chair Cathryn Hester said.

“Unfortunately, in Queensland, unlike other states and territories, we have year-round cases of this virus as we don’t have predictable seasons.”

The announcement comes after Western Australia and NSW recently announced RSV vaccines would become part of the immunisation program for babies.

“Last year over 3500 people were hospitalised with RSV and concerningly, half of them were under the age of five,” Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Maria Boulton said.

“RSV is the main cause of hospitalisations for children five and under, and we look forward to this free rollout changing this statistic.

“The cost barrier to keep up with all the recommended vaccinations and immunisations for children is a challenge for so many families and this free access will ensure all parents can prioritise their baby’s health.”