Scientist and mum of three produces rap video to promote vaccination programme

It's vital to stay on track with your child's vaccination programme, an immunology researcher and mum of three Dr Rachel McLoughlin says.
Scientist and mum of three produces rap video to promote vaccination programme

TCD professor in immunology Rachel McLoughlin with daughter Avril.

DR Rachel McLoughlin is passionate about vaccination — at work and at home. She’s professor in immunology at Trinity College Dublin — her current research is focused on developing a vaccine against hospital superbug MRSA — yet, even she ended up second-guessing herself when her youngest child’s 12- and 13-month vaccines fell due during lockdown.

“I did have that question: should I still do it with everything that’s going on? I went ahead — but if I’m asking these questions, many parents around the country must be concerned too.”

It’s for this reason the mum-of-three is spearheading a campaign to focus parents’ mind on the importance of continuing to vaccinate their children, especially during the pandemic. Following the award of a communications grant from the Health Research Board, she has produced a motivational series of three videos that are being shared online. With a particular focus on the Childhood Immunisation Schedule, she has produced a fun rap video to engage all ages.

“It’s important to know your own skillset. I’m a mum and a scientist – I’m not a rapper,” says McLoughlin, who worked with production company Stopwatch, which in turn got Garry McCarthy of GMCBeats in Cork on board. “He developed the rap and worked with six to eight kids – our expert rappers. So I thought up the concept — he wrote the rap.”

DELAYED APPOINTMENTS

McLoughlin believes Covid-19 has helped to amplify vaccine importance in fighting against often devastating effects of potentially deadly infectious diseases. A HSE spokesperson confirmed that primary care services have continued offering vaccines to babies, pregnant women and at-risk groups since the pandemic emerged. The HSE has also worked with primary care to encourage parents — across traditional and social media — to bring their babies/young children for vaccines when they fall due.

Up-to-date stats on uptake of the Childhood Immunisation Schedule during lockdown and in the months since are not available. However, a survey of 652 parents conducted by the BabyDoc Club (babydocclub.ie) online parenting community – among third-trimester pregnant parents and new parents of children up to 18 months – found one in four infant vaccine appointments were delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions and parental concerns. More than a third of these were delayed by one month or more. And one in five parents is worried their child was late to get their vaccines due to the pandemic.

“It’s never too late to catch up,” says McLoughlin. “And it’s up to parents to contact their GP. If your child’s vaccination has been delayed, or if you didn’t do it because of Covid, make your appointment today.”

The HSE also advises people to contact their GP to make an appointment when their babies are due vaccination – at two, four, six, 12 and 13 months. It recommends asking the GP practice about their protocol for giving vaccinations during Covid-19. “GP practices will be following current HSE advice about how to keep patients and staff safe at this time.”

In normal times, take-up of early childhood (by 24 months) vaccine doesn’t quite reach the gold standard 95% required for herd immunity. Referring to HSE uptake data from 2019 (latest available), McLoughlin says the MMR vaccine sits at 89%; the 6-in-1 (vaccine against diptheria/tetanus, polio, pertussis, haemophilus (Hib), hepatitis) is around 92%; and for meningitis C, it averages around 84%. “This is what prompted the current campaign. We don’t want parents to be complacent because complacency is the biggest threat to vaccine uptake.”

SERIOUS RISKS

As to why complacency sets in, McLoughlin believes it’s because many parents have never lived in a world where children got measles, for example, or the severe disabilities associated with it — a significant serious side effect of measles is blindness and it can also lead to serious neurological disorders.

“When I was growing up, there was no vaccine against meningitis,” says McLoughlin. “The first was introduced in 2000, the second in 2016. Now we have a generation of children who’ve been vaccinated against meningitis. And since 2019, they’ve introduced a booster vaccine for meningitis C, which is given to children in first year in secondary school, and this also protects against three further strains of meningitis.”

With her own three children —Killian, seven, Hazel, four, and Avril, 16 months — she never had any doubt whatsoever about getting them vaccinated.

“As a scientist, I appreciate the phenomenal advances that have been made. My children are vaccinated against almost double the diseases I was vaccinated again. We’ve made that progress in one generation and we’re fortunate in Ireland to be able to access these vaccines.”

She understands no-one wants to see their child crying —“and babies scream after being vaccinated” — and she appreciates that parents, working so hard to get their babies into a sleeping and feeding schedule, can worry that vaccinating their child might throw out the schedule they’ve worked so hard to create. “Parents can fixate on this, but at six months anything can throw this out – they’re teething and meeting other developmental milestones.”

Ultimately, for McLoughlin —who wants to reach as many parents as possible with her #KeepVaccinating message — it boils down to a simple weighing-up exercise, where the conclusion’s self-evident. “Any upset vaccination causes will be short-lived, whereas the benefits are long-term. The discomfort the child may encounter will last only a few hours – the benefits are life long.”

Launching the Vaccines Save Lives series of videos brings together two vital elements of McLoughlin’s life — her work as a scientist and her role as a mother. And she’s sure of one thing: “We have done so well in quashing these diseases [because of vaccine development], but if we take our foot off the pedal, the diseases will come back.”

 For videos see: exa.mn/TCDYouTube

 HSE UPDATE

    • Vaccine programmes in schools were paused when school buildings closed in March.
    • School immunisation teams are aware of schools they were due to visit – in recent months they’ve been inviting students who were due 4 in 1 and MMR vaccine (junior infants) and HPV and MenACWY (first year, secondary school) to HSE clinics across the country. Final uptake isn’t available, but school teams are reporting high uptake for local vaccination clinics.
    • Any student unable to attend clinics at this time will be offered an additional opportunity to complete their vaccination schedule in this academic year.
    • Planning for immunisations for those starting junior infants and first year of secondary school this academic year are underway – parents will receive information and consent forms in the coming weeks. Parents should return forms as soon as possible.
    • Interrupted courses of vaccines don’t need to be restarted, so students can complete their course when this is offered to them.
    • Best way to prevent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases is for everyone to get vaccinated on time with the recommended vaccination schedule.

    Additional information available from: exa.mn/HSE/Immunisation and exa.mn/HSE/ImmunisationStatistics

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