Biden administration sidesteps calls to declare RSV health emergency

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday ignored calls from pediatric groups urging the administration to declare a public health emergency in response to the rise in childhood respiratory illnesses.

In a statement responding to pressure from groups including the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Biden administration official said that “public health emergencies are determined based on national data, scientific trends and the insight of public health experts.”

The official said the administration “stands ready to provide assistance to communities in need of assistance on a case-by-case basis” and encouraged people to take preventative measures such as “avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying at home.” when sick, cover coughs and sneezes and stay up to date on their flu and COVID-19 vaccines to prevent the spread of contagious disease.

Children’s wards across the United States are overwhelmed by an unusually early wave of respiratory viruses in babies and toddlers, including RSV and the flu. Some parts of the country no longer have children’s beds.

As of Wednesday, 78% of children’s hospital beds nationwide were occupied, with seven states reporting capacity levels above 90%, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a letter sent Monday to President Joe Biden and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics asked the government to declare both a national emergency and a public health emergency “in support of the national response to the alarming wave of pediatric hospital admissions.”

“These unprecedented levels of RSV with rising flu rates, continued large numbers of children in mental health crisis and severe labor shortages combine to expand pediatric care capacity at the hospital and community level to breaking point,” the organizations wrote, adding that “these crisis requires more action and support.”

The organizations said the emergency declarations would allow pediatric practices more flexibility in their response to the influx of patients and free up federal resources, such as FEMA aid.

Biden has been encouraging people to get the flu shot and the updated Covid booster.

“We are already seeing an increase in flu and RSV and other respiratory illnesses, especially among young children,” Biden said at the White House last month. “My administration does our part. We have made sure that these updated vaccines are readily available and available for free in tens of thousands of convenient locations.”

The Covid public health emergency, which has been extended several times since the pandemic first hit, is set to expire in January.

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