Parents urged to keep up immunisation schedule
Survey finds one in four infant vaccine appointments were delayed due to Covid-19
one in four infant vaccine appointments were delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions and parental concerns.
Staying on track with life this year has been hit with its fair share of roadblocks as we question what we can and can’t do during restrictions in order to keep safe.
One notable hesitation has been the willingness and understanding of parents in keeping up with the Childhood Immunisation Schedule. According to a survey conducted by the online parenting group, BabyDoc Club, one in four infant vaccine appointments were delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions and parental concerns, with over a third delayed by one month or more. In addition, 1 in 5 parents are worried their child has been late to get their vaccines due to Covid-19.
Vaccination rates, however, have been progressively falling in recent years as shown from the HPSC quarterly statistics. The rates show a worrying drop in terms of children completing the vaccination schedule, with the most recent statistics for the first quarter of 2020 noting a further decline in the uptake of the appropriate booster doses. This means that children may not be fully vaccinated against these preventable diseases such as measles and pertussis which are highly contagious. Statistics for rates during lockdown and after are not yet available, however, there are legitimate concerns regarding uptake of these vital vaccinations during this period to date.
The HSE consistently reminds parents how important the free childhood vaccinations are and that the schedule is still available from GP surgeries. Yet, many parents are not fully aware of the cause and effect of these vaccinations. BabyDoc Club found in their survey that just 60 per cent of pregnant mothers and mums of new-born babies feel well informed about the Childhood Immunisation Schedule, while 35 per cent of parents don’t know all of the illnesses their child has been vaccinated against.
Professor of Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Rachel McLoughlin, whose research lab is focused on the development of new vaccines, believes the biggest threat to uptake is vaccine uncertainty which often comes from complacency of not knowing the effect of these diseases.
“As a society we have forgotten how serious these diseases are which the vaccines protect us against,” she says. “Because vaccines have done such a good job in suppressing them from society the threat of measles or meningitis don’t cause people such fear as maybe they once did. We have perhaps become complacent. It is important that those with genuine concerns be reassured, educated and encouraged to avail of the vaccines that are accessible.”
Through the Childhood Immunisation Schedule we have access to vaccines that can protect our children against 13 different infectious diseases including measles, mumps, and meningitis. As Dr McLoughlin notes, this is testament to the significant efforts that are going into research and the development of new vaccines. However, an overall uptake rate of 95 per cent is required to stop the spread of infection.
“If we look at measles,” says Dr McLoughlin, “in 2019 measles cases in Europe were 17 times higher than in 2016. In Ireland there were approximately 60 cases of measles last year which is incredible given that this disease is fully preventable with vaccination. However, you need 95 per cent vaccine coverage to generate herd immunity as it is a highly contagious disease. The latest data suggests that the uptake for the MMR vaccine in Ireland stands at 91 per cent which is still not where it needs to be.
“As we have seen with the declining vaccine uptake rates we can never take our eye off the ball on this. We have to constantly come up with new and engaging ways to shine a spotlight on the importance of vaccines,” says Dr McLoughlin.
As such Dr McLoughlin recently launched a campaign to reiterate the message that vaccines save lives. As a mother of three, she is well aware of the routine of the vaccination schedule. Like others, she also questioned the appropriate route to take when her youngest was due vaccinations in the early months of the pandemic.
“As a first-time parent we are so overwhelmed with the information overload that comes at us when we come home from hospital with our new baby in our arms. In amongst all of that information is the little pamphlet on vaccination, which naturally a sleep deprived overwhelmed new parent can overlook,” she says. “There is fantastic information available on the HSE website. I would encourage anyone with concerns or reservations to look at this information or talk to your GP or public health professional.”
Knowing the apprehension surrounding visiting a GP surgery and attempting to remain safe in these difficult days, she is adamant in getting the message out to continue on course with the vaccination schedule. With a series of videos hosted on the TCD YouTube Channel, Dr McLoughlin is hopeful of reaching as many parents as possible.
For many bringing their child for the recommended vaccines is instinctive. There are others however with genuine concerns or fears. “Every parent has their child’s best interests at heart,” understands Dr McLoughlin, “However I would urge any parent who is reluctant to have their child vaccinated to stop and think about their child’s future. We don’t know where our children will go in life or who they will interact with. When it comes to vaccination it makes sense to make sure our children are as protected as they can be.”
Essentially, the message is don’t hesitate, vaccinate. “The pandemic may have presented challenges to parents in terms of keeping appointments,” says Dr McLoughlin. “It may also have made them hesitant to go to the GP surgery to get the vaccinations. Childhood immunisations are vital, and the appointments are going ahead as normal despite all of the restrictions which are in place. For anyone who has missed an appointment, remember that’s ok once you get in touch with your GP today as it’s never too late to catch up.”
The HSE requests parents phone their GP to make an appointment and continue to bring your baby for the vaccines at two, four, six, 12 and 13 months of age. While routine school-based vaccinations were delayed due to the school closure, catch up clinics were offered over the summer months. For anyone unable to attend these clinics, these vaccinations will be offered in school during the current academic year.