Pharmac widens access to medicine for RSV

Media release Medicines

Pharmac has announced today that it will be funding the preventative treatment, palivizumab, for the next two seasons of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) for young children with severe diseases who need to be ventilated and pēpi (babies) with a high susceptibility for RSV-related illness and complications. Access is being widened to ensure our most vulnerable pēpi are protected, including more high risk Māori and Pacific pēpi.

RSV is a highly contagious, common respiratory virus that causes lung and respiratory tract infections and is the leading cause of hospitalisation for lower respiratory tract infections in infants.

“Last year New Zealand saw a large increase in RSV cases,” says Pharmac’s Director of Operations Lisa Williams. "The spike in cases was likely a result of the COVID-19 environment, so Pharmac secured a small amount of palivizumab and made it available for a small group of high-risk pēpi until the end of the 2021 RSV season.”

“In February this year, we sought advice from the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee (PTAC), the Respiratory Advisory Committee, and Neonatal ICU sector experts on the ongoing funding of the treatment. PTAC recommended palivizumab should be funded [PDF, 531 KB] for the 2022 and 2023 seasons with high priority and suggested widening access to target more of our youngest, at-risk babies.”

“In addition to the group who could access it in 2021, pēpi of Māori and Pacific ethnicity with a high susceptibility for RSV and young children living in the community with severe diseases who need to be ventilated are now eligible for treatment. Evidence shows that pēpi who are Māori or Pacific are disproportionally affected by RSV and are more likely to end up in hospital when infected, so including infants of Māori or Pacific ethnicity in our access criteria is an intentional move to address medicine access inequities. Young children with severe lung, airway, neurological or neuromuscular disease that requires community ventilation also have high health needs and risks from the consequences of RSV infection.”

“While we’re uncertain about the size and impact of the upcoming RSV seasons, we know that RSV has the potential to put additional pressure on our health system, which is already under strain as COVID-19 continues to circulate in the community.”

“We estimate that there will be approximately 940 pēpi and young children over the next two years who will benefit from funded palivizumab. This reduces their risk of being hospitalised with what is a serious and distressing experience for both pēpi and their whānau. We are pleased we can help support our most vulnerable communities potentially worst affected by RSV”.

Palivizumab is an injection, given once a month while RSV is present in the community. Funding will be in place from 1 June 2022 until 31 December 2023, with funding for future seasons to be assessed in late 2023.


Palivizumab, sold under the brand name Synagis, is a monoclonal antibody used to prevent severe disease caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections.

Pronunciation guide

Palivizumab                pal-i-viz-u-mab