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It's still summer, but doctors are already thinking about upcoming RSV season

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It's still summer, but doctors are already thinking about this coming RSV season. That virus is the leading cause of hospitalization in babies. But there is good news. The FDA approved a new drug for preventing RSV. And just yesterday, the CDC OK'd giving this new therapeutic to babies in their first RSV seasons. But as NPR's Pien Huang reports, there are still hurdles to clear before it shows up at the doctor's office.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Advisers to the CDC unanimously voted to recommend this promising new drug, but they fretted over the details. The shot of antibodies prevents babies from getting sick from RSV. It lowers the risks of needing medical care for RSV by up to 75%. Dr. Jamie Loehr, a family physician in Ithaca, N.Y., sits on the advisory committee.

JAMIE LOEHR: This is a spectacular advancement. It's going to help families and offices and keep kids out of the hospital.

HUANG: The drugmakers, AstraZeneca and Sanofi, say the shots will be ready in time for this fall. But Loehr points out there's lots of bumps to work through.

LOEHR: I am looking forward to two years from now when that will be covered by insurances, and all the implementation will be in place.

HUANG: One concern is price. The shot is expected to go for around $450 a dose. Sarah Long and Katherine Poehling, both pediatricians and committee members, took issue with the cost.

SARAH LONG: We are extraordinarily disappointed with the price setting of the manufacturer.

KATHERINE POEHLING: We do understand that those companies need to make their profit, but I am worried about equity.

HUANG: To make the drug accessible, the CDC is putting it in their Vaccines for Children program, which covers the cost for kids that are uninsured. But the shot is considered a therapeutic, not a vaccine. Technically, the difference is that a vaccine trains a person's immune system to make its own antibodies, while this shot provides antibodies directly, a quick temporary flood that goes away after a few months. Bureaucratically, some states restrict who can give injectable drugs, which means that a health care worker that gives vaccines may not be able to give the shot. And there's questions, too, on how to keep track of these shots so that babies get one and only one dose. Claire Hannan, head of the Association of Immunization Managers, says the people who run vaccine programs on state and local levels haven't been looped into the planning.

CLAIRE HANNAN: They cannot be expected to deploy critical products without the information and time needed to execute these programs.

HUANG: Given the hurdles, Dr. Tochi Iroku-Malize, head of the American Academy of Family Physicians, is setting some expectations for the fall.

TOCHI IROKU-MALIZE: I feel that, realistically, it will be available. Whether it's widely available, I can't speak to that.

HUANG: The CDC says these hurdles are real, but they are surmountable. And they're looking forward to a time when the drug is in widespread use, saving lots of babies from RSV.

Pien Huang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.