Campaign aims to create ‘chatter’ on childhood vaccinations

EMMA CONNOLLY catches up with a doctor who works in immunology, a mum of one, who has launched a campaign to encourage childhood vaccinations
Campaign aims to create ‘chatter’ on childhood vaccinations

Dr Rachel McLouglin and daughter Avril.

WHILE the world is watching and waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine, a leading scientist is putting the spotlight on the 13 available vaccines that can protect our little ones from deadly infectious diseases.

Dr Rachel McLouglin works in the field of immunology at Trinity College, and has just launched a video campaign called Vaccines Save Lives, to focus the minds of parents on the importance of continuing to vaccinate kids, especially during the pandemic.

Rachel is a leader in the field of developing new vaccines and lectures on the topic, but it was when she became a parent herself, that she started to see things from a different perspective.

“It’s very different when you’re in a doctor’s waiting room waiting for the vaccine, feeling nervous with a child on your knee.

“Even though you wouldn’t consider not getting them vaccinated for even one second, it’s still not a nice feeling,” she said.

It was that ‘feeling’ that motivated her to put a spotlight on the Childhood Immunisation Schedule, which protects kids from two months to 13 months against 13 infectious diseases like mumps, measles and meningitis.

“It struck me that not every parent had the same understanding of the diseases we protect our children, and in turn our community, against. Knowledge really is power, which is why I felt compelled to find an engaging way to share my expertise.

“Basically, I just wanted to create some general positivity, energy and chatter on vaccinations,” the mum of three said.

Then Covid-19 hit, and her idea took a slight twist while taking her youngest daughter Avril to get her scheduled 12-month vaccines during lockdown.

“I found myself hesitating a bit and asking myself if it was still OK to go; and I thought if I was hesitating, even slightly, there must be tonnes of people around the country in the same position, so that’s where the idea for the videos came from,” she said.

“And also I thought that people all over the country were going through an awful lot and, with the best will in the world, a baby’s immunisation appointment might have slipped through the cracks.

“So I wanted to put a spotlight on this and if only a handful of people said ‘Oh yes, I must do that’, then I felt I’d have done good work.”

Rachel is adamant that her campaign isn’t directed at the anti-vaccination camp.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I don’t want to engage with them at all. It’s about making the pro-vaccination voice louder and getting people talking about that,” she insists.

Dr Rachel McLouglin.
Dr Rachel McLouglin.

The campaign comprises three videos: one which shows her taking Avril for her jabs, where Rachel says importantly that it’s never too late for parents to catch up with appointments.

Another looks at her ground- breaking work into finding a vaccine for the hospital superbug MRSA.

The third is a fun rap video (by GMC and Cork kids) designed to appeal to people of all ages, who now understand the far-reaching effects that a potentially deadly virus can have on our lives.

The videos are only a few minutes long, but are high in impact.

“As scientists, I think we need to be better at communicating our messages,” said Rachel.

“There’s an appetite for information but the onus is on us to constantly come up with new ways of communicating that message,” she said.

Rachel is hopeful there will be some movement on a Covid vaccine by next year, even it if won’t be widespread.

“I can appreciate how people are getting frustrated at no-one being able to tell them when the vaccine will be out, but there isn’t one straight answer. It’s not just about getting a vaccine, it has to be one that is safe and that works. We must be careful, but what is positive is that nine vaccines are currently in phase three clinical trials so are close to the end, so people must be hopeful.”

She also said she was confident in the capabilities of science to get on top of Covid.

“People need to be patient. Science doesn’t happen fast but it does win out,” she said.

As a scientist, she said, she’s always been aware of new viruses emerging but not of the vast scale of impact that Covid has had.

“And that’s why it’s so important we continue to fund research so we can take knowledge and tools and apply them to things like Covid and be ready for what might happen in the future,” she said.

For now she’s advising parents to invest in outdoor gear for kids, and congregate outdoors as much as possible this autumn and winter.

“We don’t live in a dangerous climate — it might just be a bit miserable but we can get outside. It’s about changing our mindset,” she said.

And, of course, she emphasised the importance of washing hands as soon as kids come home, literally before doing anything else, including emptying the car, taking shoes off, etc.

But, above all, she advised: “We don’t know everything about Covid-19 and how it could potentially impact the type of diseases that are vaccine preventable, so it just makes sense to keep vaccinating.”

The Vaccines Save Lives series of videos are supported by the Health Research Board and available to see on YouTube.

RESEARCH ON VACCINATIONS

To support the launch of the new Vaccines Save Lives videos, the BabyDoc Club online parenting community commissioned research to gain insight into the views of parents when it comes to their children’s vaccines. Focused solely on the Childhood Immunisation Schedule that is recommended and funded by the government, the research reveals:

95% of parents feel the childhood immunisation schedule of vaccines for children is necessary in the fight to protect them and the community against harmful diseases.

Just 60% of pregnant mothers and mums of newborn babies feel well informed about the Childhood Immunisation Programme.

35% of parents don’t know all of the illnesses their child has been vaccinated against.

1 in 4 infant vaccine appointments were delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions and parental concerns, with over a third (35%) delayed by 1 month or more.

1 in 5 parents are worried their child was late to get their vaccines due to Covid-19.

43% of parents feel it’s important to pay to get their child vaccinated against the chicken pox virus as it falls outside of the Childhood Immunisation Programme.

82% of parents think parents should have to prove their child has been vaccinated in accordance with the Childhood Immunisation Schedule to attend ECCE and school.

69% of parents say the pandemic has made them value the importance of their baby’s routine vaccines even more.

Knowledge really is power, which is why I felt compelled to find an engaging way to share my expertise. Basically, I wanted to create some general positivity, energy and chatter on vaccinations.

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