As the outbreak of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continues to strain pediatric hospital beds across the country, the Biden administration continues to dodge calls from the medical community to declare the outbreak a national health emergency that would provide them with additional resources to battle the outbreak similar to those that were provided during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
RSV has historically been one of the most common viruses to infect children, and health experts say that almost all children are infected with it at least once before they turn 2. However, doctors are calling both the extent and severity of the recent outbreak “unprecedented” and “alarming.” According to the CDC, infants under the age of 6 months are being hospitalized with RSV at more than 7 times the rate they were prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, pediatric flu hospitalizations are at a 10-year high, with the result that many pediatric ICU units and hospital bed unit systems are extremely strained.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Childrens’ Hospital Association sent President Joe Biden and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra a joint letter last week urging a number of measures, including the declaration of a new public health emergency. According to the letter, “more than three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds are full, and many states are reporting more than 90 percent of their pediatric beds are occupied.” The letter further claims that, due to hospital overcrowding and staffing shortages, “more children [are] being cared for in community and adult hospitals which may have limited or no capacity to care for children.”
Thus far, however, the Biden administration — which repeatedly claimed that it would “follow the science” and the advice of medical professionals when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic — has been unimpressed by the calls for help. In a noncommittal response to the letter, the Biden administration did not commit to declaring a national health emergency, but instead said that the administration is “ready to provide assistance to communities who are in need of help on a case-by-case basis.” The administration also encouraged people to “avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying up to date on their flu and COVID-19 vaccines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.”
Biden himself commented on the outbreak last month, saying, “We’re already seeing a rise in the flu and RSV and other respiratory illnesses, especially among young children. My administration is doing our part. We’ve made these updated vaccines easy to get and available for free at tens of thousands of convenient locations.”
There is not currently a vaccine for RSV.