Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Jim McDermott: RSV Immunization needs to be available for all

Jim McDermott

By Jim McDermott

Last year, as the United States was adapting to life with COVID, pediatric hospital wards were filling at an alarming rate. By November, almost three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds were filled, partially due to the sudden and early rise of RSV cases.

Respiratory syncytial virus is a highly contagious respiratory disease among infants and young children. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in infants under age 1 in the United States.

In 2022, the RSV season arrived earlier than expected and was more aggressive than usual, with cases increasing in 37 of the 50 states across the country. A month into RSV season, 4 out of every 1,000 babies under 6 months were hospitalized for the disease. Local hospitals and health care facilities were overwhelmed as they also continued to deal with ongoing COVID and flu cases.

At Seattle Children’s Hospital alone, 50% of patients in November were visiting the emergency room for respiratory concerns. The emergency department did not have a break in respiratory-related cases with their pediatric patients, as rates were steady at 200%, at times reaching 300%.

Despite sending so many children to the hospital each year, RSV is often dismissed as a harmless childhood illness. The reality is that all infants are at risk of RSV. In fact, 72% of infants who are hospitalized with RSV are otherwise healthy and born at full term. About 2 out of 3 babies will get RSV before their first birthday, but we can’t predict which babies will develop lung infections due to RSV and be hospitalized.

RSV is most prevalent during the winter virus season which typically lasts from November through March, but as we saw last year, the season can vary, overwhelming hospitals with overlapping respiratory disease outbreaks. RSV can lead to serious lung infections in babies, including bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Right now we need an option to help prevent these infections that is flexible and will rapidly protect all infants when it is needed most.

Luckily, immunization technology is rapidly evolving, and that progression of technology has allowed scientists to develop new ways to fight RSV. Several companies are working on immunizations to prevent RSV and the FDA is reviewing products to protect both infants and older adults who are also a risk for RSV.

For the first time , our nation is on the cusp of being able to prevent RSV in all infants. The FDA and CDC can and should move quickly to license and recommend these products to ensure all infants can be protected and that we don’t repeat last season.

Parents, providers and the public health community are ready for safe and effective immunizations. The Biden administration has the opportunity to protect infants before the next RSV season by making sure these immunizations are accessible to families through the Vaccines for Children Program and coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

I urge the Biden administration to offer all children protection from RSV. If medical experts and scientists find products to prevent RSV save lives, then they belong on the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule and the Vaccines for Children program.

We can’t wait any longer. The FDA and CDC must move quickly because all infants are at risk and all infants need protection from RSV.

Dr. Jim McDermott served in the U.S. Congress representing Washington’s 7th Congressional District from 1989-2016. He splits his time between Seattle and France.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.