New RSV protections for infants hit cost, insurance hurdles in U.S. rollout


A doctor vaccinates an infant against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in a treatment room of her paediatric practice.

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Two new immunizations promise to protect babies from respiratory syncytial virus – if people can find them.

Providers are scrambling to offer Pfizer’s vaccine, Abrysvo, to pregnant patients and Sanofi’s monoclonal antibody, Beyfortus, to babies. Both immunizations protect infants against complications from RSV and were approved recently. They are now being rolled out as respiratory virus season begins. The tight deadline leaves little time to solve logistical issues like insurance coverage. And the high cost of the immunizations makes some providers hesitant to stock up on them without knowing if they will be paid to administer them. Michael Chamberlin is a doctor with Pediatric Associates of Mt. Carmel, a provider in Cincinnati, Ohio said that insurers have not responded to the provider’s questions about Beyfortus coverage and rates.

RSV can feel like a common cold to adults, but it is dangerous to newborns, elderly people and those with chronic illnesses. The virus is the most common cause of hospitalization for newborns.

Until recently, the only treatment for RSV was a monoclonal antigen called Synagis, given monthly during RSV season (which generally runs from autumn to spring). The cost of each dose is about $1,000 and it’s only recommended for babies who are at high-risk for serious illness. The two options are different, but both aim to protect newborns against RSV. Abrysvo by Pfizer is a vaccine that is given to pregnant women in order to trigger an immune response. This immune response then passes on the fetus. Sanofi Beyfortus, a monoclonal antigen that is given directly to infants and gives them immediate protection, is made by Sanofi. The risk of hospitalization or severe disease is reduced by 50% with both vaccines. I know that

is a serious threat to babies and to be able to prevent an illness from occurring in the first instance is very exciting. “

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Laura Riley, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, originally wasn’t planning to administer Abrysvo in her office. Riley stated that the cost of Abrysvo is $295. This makes it more expensive than maternal vaccines such as one for whooping-cough, which costs $50.

“It’s a costly endeavor,” Riley added. Riley said she heard from patients who were having difficulty getting vaccinated at pharmacies that already administered the shot to seniors.

Pfizer stated that any issues with access are most likely caused by the rapid turnaround since Abrysvo’s recommendation for use during pregnancy. It was recommended that the vaccine be used during pregnancy in a formal recommendation earlier this month. This is the last step before some pharmacies or insurers administer new shots. Abrysvo has been approved for people 60 years and older since May. Sanofi reported that more than 90% infants were already covered by insurance plans. Pfizer also said they are seeing positive results. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association spokesperson Kelly Parsons said that coverage during the one-year implementation period will vary from plan to plan as system, technical and coding issues may arise.

“Coverage during the one-year implementation period will vary from plan to plan as system, technical and coding issues may arise,” Kelly Parsons, a spokesperson for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said in a statement.[RSV]Pediatricians of Dallas, where Graham Bakke received his Beyfortus shot, bought about 200 doses of the monoclonal antibody to see if insurers would accept the claims before ordering enough for the roughly 1,000 babies it ultimately expects to immunize against RSV this season,[RSV]said James Watson, a doctor at the office.

Insurers are reimbursing the office, Watson said, albeit at a lower rate than the shot costs. The office is willing and able to pay the price. Watson stated that “it’s important to do.” “If we make a loss, we will see you again for other things. That’s part of the game.” “

— CNBC’s Patrick Manning was a contributor to this report.