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Family of Montana infant hospitalized from RSV grateful for new vaccine

Posted at 7:16 PM, Aug 24, 2023

BILLINGS — Ethan Baxter was hospitalized at St. Vincent Healthcare last fall after contracting RSV and taking an emergency life flight from Bozeman. Fast forward almost a year, and there's hope a new vaccine will not only lessen the cases but also lessen the severity of the disease.

"This happened last year during Thanksgiving, and we were at St. Vincent’s for 10 days," said Rich Baxter, Ethan's father.

RSV is a virus that causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract.

"It was Friday at daycare and they were like, ‘hey, he’s got a fever, keep an eye on him’ and by Sunday we’re in the hospital being life-flighted to Billings," said Jessica Baxter, Ethan's mother.

"It was pretty rough in the hospital. He hardly had any energy, he was super sleepy, lethargic, just couldn’t do anything," Rich added.

And this is an all-too-common story.

"In the U.S, in half the states, in 40 hospitals, there were approximately 600 cases, and these were acute cases these were kids that were actually admitted to an ICU or a high acuity unit. And 80% of those kids did not have any underlying disease," said Dr. Menard Barruga, a pediatric intensivist at St. Vincent's.

Barruga added that 25% of those needed mechanical ventilation, and labored breathing is a big indicator.

It was that difficulty that tipped off the Baxters.

"The night that we noticed it hit really hard. You could lift up his shirt and just see his ribs pulling in and out, in and out," Rich added.

Ethan got the help he needed and now, there’s hope others won’t struggle as much as he did. Beyfortus is a new vaccine due for release this fall and is designed for children entering their first RSV season and those that remain vulnerable into their second season.

Barruga said this vaccine is unlike many others.

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"It’s a little bit different than the normal vaccines that we give. It’s considered monoclonal antibody. Which means that it’s produced in the lab and the lab then generates the vaccine based on the antibodies that are generated from the infection. With other vaccines, kids usually get either live or killed virus and their immune system is the one that’s dependent on producing the immunity to the particular organism or infection," Barruga added.

And one he says can make a big difference.

"We’ve certainly seen the spectrum of what RSV can do, and now that we have something that can be preventive in a disease that can be deadly. There’s always going to be a question of, is it worth it? If it’s something that we’ve seen like some other diseases that the vaccines have been able to prevent, then I think this would be a small cost to try to prevent another disease that hopefully will prevent more deaths," Barruga said.

And families like Ethan’s don’t have to endure what his parents did.

"It is encouraging that there is something out there that could probably help and make it, so RSV symptoms aren’t as severe," Jessica added.