Skip to main content

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccination information

What is RSV? 

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a common winter virus, which almost all children have had by the time they are two years old. It is common for older children and adults to have the virus again.  

For most people, RSV causes a mild illness, such as a cough or cold. However, babies under one year of age and older adults are at risk of becoming very unwell. Sometimes, people who get ill from RSV infection need to go to hospital. RSV can be more dangerous for some people, especially those with certain health conditions. It may even cause death. 

Illness due to RSV has a big impact on the NHS during winter months. In the UK, around 33,500 children under the age of five end up in hospital because of the virus. The number of people going to hospital because of RSV has increased in the last 20 years.

How is RSV spread? 

RSV is spread through close contact with infected people. When infected people cough or sneeze, they release tiny droplets containing the virus into the air. RSV can also be spread by people touching surfaces or objects that have the virus on them. Most people will have had the virus before as a child. However, having a previous RSV infection may not mean you continue to be protected, so you could get RSV again. 

Why have an RSV vaccination programme? 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is a group of experts in the UK that advises the Government on vaccines and immunisation. In September 2023, the JCVI recommended developing an RSV immunisation programme for infants and older adults. 

The RSV programme is a new programme that will protect thousands of infants and older people from serious illness each winter, keeping more people out of hospital and from needing to see a GP. 

The vaccination could save 1,000 young children every year in Wales from going to hospital and could save the lives of over 100 older people each year.   

There are now safe and effective vaccines available and it has been recommended that an RSV immunisation programme be planned across all nations of the UK. 


High-risk groups 

Programme to protect newborn babies and infants 

RSV can make newborn babies and infants very unwell. 

Babies can develop severe lung problems, such as bronchiolitis (swelling of the small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia (swelling of the air sacs in the lungs). Babies with bronchiolitis or pneumonia may need to go to hospital to help them get better. 

RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in infants. Bronchiolitis can make it hard for young children to breathe, especially in:  

  • babies born early (at 35 weeks or earlier)  

  • babies with certain heart or lung problems, or  

  • babies who have severe problems with their immune systems.


How does getting vaccinated during pregnancy protect my baby? 

The protection you get from the vaccine will pass to your baby through the placenta. The placenta is on the inside of your womb and links your blood supply with your unborn baby. 

The vaccine will help protect your baby in the first few months of life when they are most vulnerable. 

The vaccine also helps to prevent pregnant women from getting RSV and lowers the risk of them passing it on to their baby. 


Is the RSV vaccine safe in pregnancy? 

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness before they are allowed to be used. Once they are in use, their safety continues to be monitored by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). 

There is no evidence of risks to your pregnancy from this type of vaccine. The RSV vaccine is not a live vaccine, so it cannot cause RSV in women or their babies. The RSV vaccine is the safest and most effective way to help protect your unborn baby from RSV. 


Programme for older adults  

In older adults, RSV can cause severe breathing problems, particularly in those who are frail or have other health conditions. For a small number of people who are at risk of more severe respiratory disease, RSV infection might cause pneumonia (infection of the lungs) or even death. 


Is the RSV vaccine safe for older adults? 

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness before they are allowed to be used. Once they are in use, their safety continues to be monitored by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). 

The RSV vaccine has passed strict safety standards for use in the UK and has been shown to be very safe. As with all vaccines, any reports of side effects are closely monitored and reviewed.