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Australia approves new vaccine for mild virus that kills just 8 elderly people a year

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Australia has quietly approved a vaccine for a respiratory virus that kills just 8.2 elderly people a year and was considered too mild to track until 2021.

GlaxoSmithKline’s Arexvy vaccine was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in January for those aged 60 and above for the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which mainly affects the very old and the very young, and will be dispensed through private prescriptions.

But the pharmaceutical giant has also applied to have the vaccine added to the National Immunisation Program, so it can be made a routine vaccination funded by the taxpayer, ABC News reported.

The vaccine is protein-based and given as a single dose.

According to a Medical Journal of Australia study of RSV hospitalisations from 2006 to 2015, there were just 138 in-hospital deaths from the illness during that period, of which 82 were in adults 65 and older – average of 8.2 per year.

The Australian Department of Health describes RSV as common and highly contagious, and notes that the main treatment for an RSV infection is rest and plenty of fluids.

RSV was not a nationally notifiable illness until 2021, and since then official cases have gone from seven in 2020 to 127,959 in 2023.

Arexvy was responsible for £1.2 billion in sales – out of total turnover of £30.2 billion – for GSK in 2023, its first year, according to the company’s results summary.

Almost all of those sales were in the United States, where the vaccine was made available in major retail pharmacies after getting FDA approval in May. Arexvy is also approved for medical use in the UK, the EU, Canada, and Japan.

Full details of the cost of Arexvy for Australians have not been released, and the vaccine will go on the black triangle scheme for five years, meaning it is new and more risky, and subject to more stringent reporting requirements.

The ABC did not mention the black triangle scheme in their article, which also quotes University of Sydney infectious diseases paediatrician Robert Booy, who has received funding from GSK and spoke in the GSK press release on Arexvy.

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