South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) is set to become the first ambulance service in the country to provide an antibody jab for babies which protects against a potentially dangerous respiratory virus.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is one of the leading causes of hospitalisation in all infants worldwide, affecting 90% of children before the age of two.
For the first time, dedicated research paramedics and nurses from SCAS will offer families the opportunity to be involved by visiting them at home if they are unable to travel to hospitals, GP practices or vaccination centres.
RSV often causes only mild illness like a cold, but for some babies it leads to more severe lung problems such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia – and there has been a resurgence of the virus following the easing of COVID-19 public health measures.
In a study known as HARMONIE, researchers across the UK will give babies up to the age of 12 months who are in, or are approaching, their first RSV season a single dose of nirsevimab, a monoclonal antibody immunisation.
They will then assess how strongly they can be protected from serious illness due to RSV infection.
The antibody has recently been approved by both the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and has been shown to reduce lower respiratory tract infections in previous trials.
However, more research is required before it can be rolled out across the NHS and more than 20,000 infants across three countries (UK, France and Germany) are set to take part in this stage of the study.
Martina Brown, research and clinical audit manager at SCAS, said: “We are extremely proud to be the first ambulance trust to utilise our dedicated research paramedics and nurses to immunise patients against this potentially dangerous winter virus.
“Our involvement means we are able to offer an opportunity to be involved to those families who are unable to travel to medical centres by visiting them at home and, given the cascading effect of RSV on ambulance services and the wider NHS, the potential positive impact of this pioneering study could be significant.”
Dr Simon Drysdale, consultant paediatrician in infectious diseases at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and co-chief investigator of the study, said: “RSV is a common respiratory virus which affects nearly all children before the age of two. For most children it causes a mild illness like a cold, however, it can lead to more severe lung problems for some, such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
“The HARMONIE study is looking at how strongly babies can be protected from illness caused by RSV infection through a single antibody dose, which acts in the same way as antibodies in our own bodies but is targeted specifically to fight RSV.
“Previous Phase 3 studies have been completed to date and show that nirsevimab is safe and effective in preventing RSV in preterm and healthy infants. The HARMONIE study is looking to further assess the impact with more babies involved.
“The study is critical to helping the NHS, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) find out whether it is feasible and beneficial, to patients and the NHS, to routinely implement nirsevimab in healthy babies.”
The trial is a collaboration between Sanofi, its partner AstraZeneca and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and will run until March next year.
Anyone interested in finding out more or signing up can visit the study website rsvharmoniestudy.com.