The Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have implored the Biden Administration to declare an emergency to aid a national response to an “alarming surge of pediatric respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza.”

This week, the Children’s Hospital Association and AAP sent a letter to Joe Biden and Health Secretary Xavier Becerra warning of “unprecedented levels” of RSV that, combined with flu season, are pushing some hospitals to their limits.

The letter, sent by Children’s Hospital Association CEO Mark Wietecha and AAP CEO Mark Del Monte, urged Biden and Becerra to “declare an emergency” and “mitigate the supply, equipment and drug shortages that also threaten the ability to provide consistent and reliable care for pediatric patients.”

The CEOs also told the Biden administration that “this crisis requires more action and support,” requesting “visibility into the pediatric supplies and equipment in the national stockpile to focus on release and replenishment of needed pediatric specific supplies, equipment and pharmaceuticals to those expanding pediatric care.”

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In a statement, Wietecha said, “President Biden and Secretary Becerra have been invaluable leaders to children’s hospitals across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we implore them to renew their commitment to pediatric health care and give us the resources necessary to control the ongoing RSV and flu surge with the continuing children’s mental health emergency. Our system is stretched to its limit and without immediate attention, the crisis will only worsen.”

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The two medical organizations said that the emergency declarations they’re requesting “would allow waiver of certain Medicare, Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements so that hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers may share resources in a coordinated effort to care for their community and have access to emergency funding to keep up with the growing demands, specifically related to workforce support.”

RSV is a common respiratory virus that causes mild, cold-like symptoms, according to the CDC. While most recover in two weeks, some cases can be serious in those who are very young or old, with compromised immune systems.

The director of the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Raymond Pitetti, shared a video on Twitter of a tent set up outside its building to help with the surge in young patients.

“Over the past six to eight weeks – maybe even a little bit longer – we have seen a huge increase in the number of children coming into our emergency department and the vast majority of them are coming in with respiratory illnesses and of those, many of them have RSV as the virus that is sort of triggering their respiratory illness,” said Pitetti. “The tent is a space that gives us eight to 10 more beds… if we start to see a major spike throughout the day and we have the resources to do it, we are going to open up the tent.”

UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh tent set up to accommodate surge of RSV patients

It is expected that children born during the pandemic are driving the RSV surge because their mothers were taking extra precautions against Covid-19, and thus avoided respiratory viruses that would have conferred critical immunity to developing babies.

Dr. Russell Faust, medical director for the Oakland County Health Division in Michigan, explained this theory, saying, “For two years, pregnant women were masking and distancing and washing their hands frequently and staying away from anybody who was ill. They were being vigilant because they were making a baby. So for two years, those newborns were not benefitting from the passive immunity, the immunity that moms pass on through the placenta.”

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