Is the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Vaccination Important?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can be dangerous for older adults and a single dose of RSV vaccine can help protect them from getting very sick.

Helpful Highlights

  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is highly contagious and can cause older adults to get very sick. It can also worsen serious conditions such as COPD, and heart failure.

  • Between 60,000 - 160,000 older adults in the U.S. are hospitalized and 6,000 - 10,000 die due to RSV infection.

  • While there is no specific treatment for RSV infections, there are important preventive measures, which include vaccination for those aged 60 and older.

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RSV vaccination

The CDC recommends respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccination for those aged 60 and older. In June 2023, GSK Arexvy and Pfizer Abrysvo vaccines were approved by the FDA for use in older adults. The best time to get the vaccination is late summer to early fall before RSV usually starts to spread in the community.

RSV vaccination can help protect your loved one from getting very sick with RSV. One dose protects against RSV in adults aged 60 and older for at least two winter seasons when RSV normally circulates. They are well over 80% effective in preventing lung infections in the first year and are still well over 50% effective in the second year.

RSV vaccination side effects

Side effects such as pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, fever, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle or joint pain are possible after RSV vaccination. These side effects are usually mild and do not last long.

What it is

RSV is a common respiratory virus that can cause mild to severe respiratory illness, particularly in older adults (and young children). RSV typically spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching the face. The virus can survive on surfaces for several hours, making it easy to spread in communal living settings and healthcare facilities.

RSV can cause significant respiratory illness in older adults, especially those aged 65 years and older or those with underlying health conditions such as heart or lung disease. RSV infections in older adults may present as severe pneumonia, exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or exacerbation of heart failure.

Between 60,000 - 160,000 older adults in the U.S. are hospitalized and 6,000 - 10,000 die due to RSV infection. Adults at highest risk for severe RSV infection have:

  • chronic heart or lung disease

  • weakened immune systems

  • certain other underlying medical conditions (diabetes, kidney or liver disorders)

  • frailty or advanced age (75+)

  • live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities

Important preventive measures

There is no specific treatment for RSV infections, and most cases resolve on their own with supportive care such as rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms. In severe cases, hospitalization and supportive treatments such as supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation may be necessary, particularly in infants, older adults, and immunocompromised individuals.

In addition to vaccination, preventive measures to reduce the spread of RSV among older adults include:

  • frequent handwashing

  • avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands

  • avoiding close contact with sick individuals, especially grandchildren who attend daycare

  • covering coughs and sneezes

  • regularly disinfecting frequently touched surfaces

  • staying home when sick

Talk to your loved one's healthcare provider about whether the RSV vaccine is appropriate for them, especially if your loved one resides in a nursing home or spends a significant amount of time in healthcare facilities.


American Medical Association (AMA)

CDC - RSV in Older Adults

CDC - RSV Vaccine for Adults 60 and Older

CDC - RSV Vaccine FAQ

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Mayo Clinic

Melgar, M., Britton, A., Roper, L.E., et al. (2023). Use of respiratory syncytial virus vaccines in older adults: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2023. MMWR, 72, 793–801. DOI

Yale Medicine

Yale School of Public Health

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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