Some of us may have seen the concerning headlines in the news about a little known virus called RSV, spreading through daycare centers and preschools, infecting our children and their families. "The little known virus" is called RSV and it is impacting children in Philadelphia. Yet again, parents and caregivers in my district have found themselves scrambling for information about a new virus making children sick across our city.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common illness among infants that can develop deadly complications such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis or the inflammation of small airways. This disease kills up to 500 young children every year and is the leading cause of hospitalized children under the age of 2.
By the end of July in Philadelphia, there were approximately 50 cases of RSV confirmed. That may seem like a small amount, but it is extremely unusual for this time of year. Like many other hospitals in cities across the U.S., Philadelphia children's hospitals are being bombarded with young children who have contracted RSV. This is in addition to the existing care for children battling the COVID-19 virus. What makes this increase even more concerning is that this virus typically circulates during the winter months. However, last winter, most families stayed inside to practice social distance and had strict rules about wearing masks. As families across Pennsylvania and in my district have just started to socialize again, RSV has taken advantage of children's weakened immune systems and as a result, has spread quickly.
As we have all devastatingly witnessed with the COVID-19 pandemic, the RSV virus has similarly exposed deep-rooted health disparities that disproportionately impact minority communities. According to the National Medical Association report, minority children have a higher likelihood to contract RSV due to a host of factors, not limited to the fact that Black infants are more likely to be born prematurely and have low birth weights. Other factors such as air pollutants in the environment and a history of asthma increase a child's risk for RSV.
At the moment, my colleagues in Harrisburg have been unwilling even to discuss policies that would ensure that we address the root causes of health disparities that exist in our commonwealth – a decision that I believe may contribute to increased rates of RSV in minority children. From addressing the increase in maternal mortality rates to refusing to pass common sense environmental regulations to take care of our state's polluted air-quality, our legislators do not want to fix our state's health inequalities.
Despite the lack of effort of my colleagues, there is a solution, but we need our leaders at the federal level to take action. At the moment, the most equitable and effective way to prevent more children from contracting RSV is to include any potential immunization in the recommended childhood vaccination schedule through the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. The VFC is the lifeline for over 40 million children in America who are eligible for Medicaid, lack insurance, or have insurance but cannot afford to pay additional out-of-pocket expenses. The program allows these children, many of them in communities of color, to access protection against deadly childhood illnesses and viruses. While our legislators in Harrisburg refuse to address these systemic inequalities, it is up to the federal agencies to step in. because children of color in this country, our commonwealth, and our city, deserve to be protected from this deadly virus.
Morgan Cephas (192nd District) was elected to serve her first term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in November 2016. Since joining the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Morgan has introduced laws to reverse the trend of maternal mortality, increase financial relief for child care and to bring dignity to incarcerated women.