More people need to understand the risk of the respiratory syncytial virus, which can be mitigated with a vaccine, medical professionals said during a virtual forum hosted by the Kansas Health Institute. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
By A.J. Dome, Kansas Reflector
Kansas health care professionals say more education is needed regarding the vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
Kansas Health Institute hosted a virtual forum earlier this month to discuss the types of immunizations older adults may need and why those shots are important to get. Annette Graham, executive director of the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging, said she’s heard some confusion from older adults about what RSV is.
“Historically it’s been discussed as affecting young children,” Graham said. “They don’t understand they can be susceptible to it.”
RSV can cause infections in a person’s lungs and respiratory system, and for healthier people it can feel much like a common cold. Young children and babies, as well as seniors, are more vulnerable to the virus as it spreads via coughing, sneezing, or touching infected surfaces, such as doorknobs. Like influenza and other viruses, the typical season for RSV starts during autumn and peaks in mid-winter.
Graham said there are “a lot” of educational opportunities statewide regarding RSV and how it infects people, as well as the potential side effects associated with the RSV vaccine for adults 60 and older. For rural and frontier residents, she said, their biggest barriers to getting vaccinations are access to shots and transportation to a health clinic to receive them, on top of the sometimes-high out-of-pocket costs of immunizations not covered by insurance.
As part of the call, Kansas Health Institute portfolio strategist Hina Shah offered a case discussion for the group. The case study involved a 70-year-old person who received the COVID-19 booster shot and this year’s flu vaccine but declined to get a shingles or RSV vaccine because of a concern about overloading their body on vaccines in one day. Shah said the person was also concerned about difficulties accessing immunization information because of poor internet coverage in their rural area.
Kansas Pharmacy Association representative Amanda Applegate said some rural residents are less worried about receiving multiple shots in one day, simply because they may only have one day available to drive the long distances that can be required to reach a pharmacy or health facility.
“It has brought in some very vaccine-confident older adults, who, as respiratory virus season is getting underway, they’ve said, ‘Load me up,’ ” Applegate said.
Brenda Groves, a quality improvement consultant with KFMC Health Improvement Partners, said her staff is working to adapt the agency’s educational materials into different languages to meet the changing needs of residents and caregivers in long-term care facilities.
Kansas House Rep. John Eplee, an Atchison Republican and family physician, said during the forum that he is heartened by seeing more older people get vaccinated against infections like RSV.
“We’ve got to continue to educate people, and to provide people with accurate information,” Eplee said. “We’re still dealing with some of the negative public health impacts from COVID.”
Eplee said public health officials need to continue to be advocates for people, especially aging residents, who may be inundated with disinformation or negative comments regarding vaccines.
The virtual call was part of KHI’s Ad Astra ECHO series covering immunization-related topics. The next session, covering vaccinations for pregnant mothers and their babies, is set for 1 p.m. Feb. 16 via Zoom.
This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.