Op-ed: We must act quickly to protect children from RSV

Getty Images

I am so thankful that we were able to move forward and learn to adjust to living with COVID.

As an educator and founder of four preschools, the pandemic proved to be a difficult time, especially when we had to shut down our preschools at the peak of the pandemic. When we opened our doors again, we had to figure out ways to keep our children healthy while providing them with educational and social development skills.  

The immunization distribution campaign against COVID allowed our families, staff and children—as well as the rest of the country—to return to a new normal. As COVID vaccines continue to be more and more accessible to everyone, we should similarly prioritize approving and distributing immunizations against another dangerous virus, respiratory syncytial virus or otherwise more commonly known as RSV. 

RSV is a highly contagious respiratory disease among infants that can cause complications such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis. 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 up to 80,000 U.S. children to the emergency room each year. It is most prevalent during the winter virus season, which typically lasts from November to March, but outbreaks can occur without warning throughout the year, as they did last year. 

In 2022, RSV season arrived earlier and more aggressively than in years past. Philadelphia alone saw cases increase from 80 to 520 between September and October. By November, two-thirds of pediatric intensive care units in the Commonwealth were at 85% capacity. Across the country, four out of every 1,000 babies under 6 months were hospitalized for the disease a month into RSV season. 

The uptick in cases led to many parents coming to me and other childcare providers with concerns about how to protect their children from RSV. While RSV symptoms can often be cold-like, there are also terrifying stories about long hospital stays due to RSV.  These severe cases include children being intubated, struggling to breath and left with severe respiratory side effects.

Fortunately, scientists have been able to develop new immunizations to prevent RSV in all infants. One new RSV immunization has already been approved in Europe and the FDA and CDC are currently reviewing products to combat RSV in the United States. There is no reason these immunizations should not be on the CDC schedule and in the Vaccines for Children program, especially when they have been proven to be effective.

The Biden administration must act quickly and find a solution, just as they did with the coronavirus. In order to protect all infants from the effects of RSV, these immunizations must be licensed and recommended by the CDC now so we can have the protections our children need once RSV season arrives. 

We have the opportunity to offer all children from this potentially life-threatening illness and we shouldn’t delay the distribution of this immunization any longer.

Melissa Page Peter is the founder of Mi Casita Spanish Immersion Preschool. Mi Casita currently has locations in Fairmount and Poplar in Philadelphia, as well as Ardmore and Spring House. For more information, visit micasitapreschool.com