Protecting Children from RSV

A neonatologist shares a moving personal story to raise awareness about new tools to prevent RSV.

With a surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases expected again this winter, Dr. Sean Cullen, a neonatologist and pediatrician at NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns, is encouraging everyone to take advantage of new tools that will help reduce the risk of a disease that results in nearly 80,000 hospitalizations of children each year.

Dr. Sean Cullen

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending an antibody shot for infants younger than 8 months, who either were born during or are entering their first RSV season. A second option is for pregnant individuals in their third trimester, who can receive a maternal vaccine to protect newborns.

“These two strategies have shown a greater than 70% reduction in severe respiratory infections like pneumonia in children, which typically requires hospitalization,” writes Dr. Cullen in an opinion piece for Medpage Today.

Dr. Cullen also describes caring for infants suffering from RSV and tells a personal story about the virus.

When Dr. Cullen was 9 years old, his baby brother, Kevin, was born with a serious congenital heart defect. Kevin received lifesaving surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and recovered in the neonatal ICU. However, “at 10 months old, he was infected with RSV while living at home,” Dr. Cullen writes. “Despite extensive efforts, he passed away in a pediatric ICU.”

Dr. Cullen with his baby brother, Kevin

Dr. Cullen urges his fellow pediatricians, obstetricians, and family medicine physicians to talk to patients about the groundbreaking RSV vaccine and antibody shots. He also calls on governmental agencies, public health institutions, and healthcare providers to form a united front in promoting the benefits of these lifesaving medications.

“As a pediatrician now, I will advocate for these new tools,” he writes. “While telling my family about the new preventive vaccine and nirsevimab for RSV, my sister Erin — now 31 but only 4 years old when Kevin passed — put it best: ‘What an amazing gift that is for families like ours to now have.’”

Read the full op-ed here.

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