PREGNANT women receiving antenatal care at the John Radcliffe Hospital are being invited to take part in a world-first clinical trial.

Visitors to the Women's Centre will be offered a dose of a vaccine that could protect babies from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) disease in their first months of life.

Some 200,000 children a year are killed by RSV, a lung infection often beginning with a runny nose and cough but leading to serious issues such as bronchitis and asthma.

Abingdon mum-of-three Claire Norris, 29, faced every parent's worst nightmare when her four-month-old son Sebastian was hospitalised with bronchitis last October.

She said: "When I picked him up from his morning sleep, he wasn't his normal self. We thought, we have to take him to A&E."

"I thought they would say he needed a blue inhaler but as soon as we got to A&E it was different straight away."

Sebastian was admitted to a children's ward at the JR and six hours later transferred to children's intensive care, where he was on breathing support for three days.

Mrs Norris, a nanny, said: "It was the worst week of my life. We ended up staying at the hospital and taking it in turns to be with him.

"Through your pregnancy you think about big things like meningitis, but you never think something as simple as a respiratory infection can be so damaging."

Nearly all babies are infected by RSV by their second birthday and in winter the virus causes epidemics, accounting for up to one in six hospital admissions in babies.

Healthy pregnant women from Oxfordshire due to give birth between September and December are being asked if they want to take part in the vaccine trial.

Those who take part will receive either a placebo or the new RSV vaccine, which generates antibodies passed to the baby, at 28 to 36 weeks.

Immunisation is already used in pregnancy to protect babies from whooping cough, tetanus and influenza, and it is hoped this vaccine will do the same for RSV.

Chief investigator Dr Matthew Snape, of Oxford University's Oxford Vaccine Group, said: "As a paediatrician I’m very excited to be involved in a study to prevent an infection that is so common and causes so much distress.

"An effective vaccine given to pregnant women could prevent thousands of babies a year having to be admitted to hospital in the UK and around the world.

"It’s great to see Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Oxford being involved in this international effort.”"

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