WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday dodged calls from pediatric groups that urged the government to declare a public health emergency in response to surging respiratory illnesses among children.
In a statement responding to pressure from groups such as the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Biden administration official said “public health emergencies are determined based on national data, scientific trends and the insight of public health experts”.
The official said the administration is “ready to provide assistance to communities that need help on a case-by-case basis” and encouraged people to take preventative measures such as “avoiding close contact with sick people, staying home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes and keeping up to date on their flu and COVID-19 vaccines to prevent the spread of infectious disease.
Pediatric units across the United States are overwhelmed by an unusual and early rise in respiratory viruses in babies and toddlers, including RSV and influenza. Some parts of the country are completely short of pediatric beds.
As of Wednesday, 78% of pediatric hospital beds were full nationwide, 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 called on the administration to declare a national emergency as well as a public health emergency “to support the national response to the alarming spike in pediatric hospitalizations.
“These unprecedented levels of RSV are occurring with rising rates of influenza, high numbers of children in mental health crisis, and severe workforce shortages combine to expand pediatric care capacity at the hospital level and community to breaking point,” the organizations wrote, adding that “this crisis requires more action and support.”
The organizations said the emergency declarations would allow pediatric practices greater flexibility in their response to the influx of patients and free up federal resources, such as FEMA assistance.
Biden encouraged people to get their flu shots and the updated Covid reminder.
“We are already seeing an increase in influenza and RSV and other respiratory illnesses, especially in young children,” Biden said last month at the White House. “My administration is doing our part. We’ve made these updated vaccines easy to get and available for free in tens of thousands of convenient places. »
The Covid public health emergency, which has been extended several times since the first hit of the pandemic, is set to expire in January.