Opinion: We have a duty to protect our children from spikes in RSV cases - Generocity Philly

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Sep. 20, 2021 3:40 pm

Opinion: We have a duty to protect our children from spikes in RSV cases

Philadelphia's Department of Health recently called attention to the drastic increase in RSV cases in Philadelphia this summer, says guest columnist Melissa Page.

The RSV virus is unpredictable, and it sends 500,000 U.S. children under five to the emergency room each year.

(Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels)

This guest column was written by Melissa Page, founder of Mi Casita Spanish Immersion Preschools in Fort Worth, Texas, Ardmore, PA and Philadelphia.
The Biden administration has helped us bounce back quickly by ensuring that no one would miss the chance to get vaccinated based on their income or insurance coverage.

I appreciate local, state, and federal officials who have worked so hard to make sure that there are no barriers to vaccination. I am incredibly grateful because as the founder of three Spanish immersion preschools called Mi Castia, we had to close during the height of the pandemic. Our preschools are located in Philadelphia, Ardmore, and Fort Worth, Texas. Our families, staff members, and children are thrilled to be back and learning in person.

As we keep COVID-19 vaccinations easily accessible to everyone, we should similarly prioritize accessibility in the fight against another dangerous virus. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a highly contagious respiratory disease among infants that can cause complications such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis (inflammation of small lung airways). It is a common misconception that RSV is only severe in preterm babies, but 72% of infants hospitalized for RSV were previously healthy with no underlying conditions.

This virus is unpredictable, and it sends 500,000 U.S. children under five to the emergency room each year. It is most prevalent during the winter virus season (typically November– March), but outbreaks can occur without warning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently warned that we are seeing a late spring-early summer spike in RSV cases among babies who would have usually gotten sick over the winter had COVID-19 restrictions not been in place.

RSV immunizations must be recommended by the CDC and be included in the federal Vaccines for Children program.

The Department of Health recently called attention to the drastic increase in RSV cases in Philadelphia this summer, stating that it was “abnormal given that RSV typically circulates at very low levels during the summer months.” The Inquirer also recently reported that doctors at Philadelphia Children’s hospital started referring to the summer increase of RSV as “Christmas in July.”

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These increases are due to many factors, such as relaxing COVID-19 precautions and children’s immune systems not being as strong due to a year of virtual school.  In Texas, where my other school is located, the state Department of Health issued a health advisory in response to the drastic increase in RSV this summer.

This has led to many parents in Texas and Pennsylvania asking me and other childcare providers what they can do to protect their children from RSV. We have heard terrifying stories of family’s RSV hospital stays where the pediatric units were over capacity due to COVID-19, making things even scarier for the child.

Luckily, scientists are developing new products that hold the promise to prevent RSV in all infants. To distribute RSV immunizations equitably, these new products must be part of the CDC’s recommended childhood immunization schedule and covered by the federal Vaccines for Children Program (VFC). While some of the products in development use a new technology that delivers passive instead of active immunization (like existing vaccines), any product that produces a high level of protection from severe disease, just as existing vaccines do, should be treated like any other immunization.

There is no reason for preventative products against RSV not to be on the CDC schedule and in the VFC program if the science shows that they protect from severe disease and hospitalization just as traditional vaccines do.

To protect all infants, RSV immunizations must be recommended by the CDC and be included in the federal Vaccines for Children program. VFC covers the more than 40 million children who are uninsured, underinsured, or eligible for Medicaid; more than half of all children in the U.S. receive their childhood immunizations through VFC. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in Pennsylvania, 1 in 3 children is covered by Medicaid. Without a potential RSV vaccine included in the VFC program, their children may not have access to a life-saving vaccine.

I applaud the Biden and state administration’s steps to ensure an equitable COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Without their carefully executed community outreach efforts, COVID-19 cases would have continued to skyrocket. We need to continue to distribute all immunizations equitably and ensure that infants’ protection from RSV does not depend on their parent’s ability to pay for immunizations out-of-pocket. The Biden administration, particularly Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, has the opportunity to offer all children protection from RSV, regardless of their parent’s income. If medical experts find that products to prevent RSV save lives, they belong on the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule and the Vaccines for Children program.

The children and families at Mi Castia in Texas and Pennsylvania have already experienced almost two years of unprecedented change and disruption due to COVID-19. I do not want something similar to happen if there continues to be an increase in RSV.

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