Vaccination is something that Francesca feels passionately about. Her son Daniel was born three months early and fought for his life in paediatric intensive care. Now, with chronic lung disease and taking medication which supresses his immune system, even though he is fully vaccinated, Francesca is only too aware of the risk he faces being around those who have not been vaccinated.
My three-year-old son Daniel was born very prematurely. It was quite shock when I went into labour on Boxing day in 2016, when my due date was not until March 2017! Daniel spent the first six months of his life in hospital. Unfortunately, due to his prematurity, he still has severe chronic lung disease. He is on oxygen, and has to take numerous medications every day. One of the medications he now has to take is a steroid, which reduces the inflammation in his lungs. Unfortunately, it also has the effect of suppressing his immune system.
With such a medically fragile child, vaccinations are really important to me, and Daniel is fully vaccinated. Soon after he was born, the doctors in the neo-natal unit explained that premature babies are even more vulnerable to illness than others, so we were relieved when he could finally have his jabs. Unfortunately, even though he is vaccinated, he can still be at risk from being around non-vaccinated children, due to his supressed immunity.
I’m on a lot of groups on social media to do with parenting and premature babies, and I often see people discussing vaccinations saying things like “It’s a personal choice.” Sometimes people say to me “‘Well, if your child is vaccinated he’ll be fine, so why do you care what other people do?” I think a lot of people don’t realise that the decision not to vaccinate, puts a lot of vulnerable people in danger. These groups include new-borns, who are too young to have their jabs, as well as people on chemotherapy, transplant patients, and anyone taking immunosuppressant medication like my son.
Due to Daniel’s chronic lung disease, illnesses which would be trivial for healthy people can affect him really severely. In the first year after he left hospital, he was admitted to paediatric intensive care (PICU) eight times. A simple illness like the common cold would cause him to go into respiratory failure, meaning he needed to be on a ventilator, as he could no longer breathe on his own. For many weeks at a time we sat next to his bed as he lay there, deeply sedated, with lines running into every vein you can think of.
It’s difficult to explain just how extreme it is to have a child in PICU. It is a children’s ward, but you don’t hear any children, just the beeping of monitors and the quiet voices of nurses and doctors. The picture accompanying this post gives an idea of the level of support children in PICU tend to need. In the picture, the lines running in to Daniel’s body are giving him the following drugs:
- Fentanyl - a powerful opiate
- Midazolam - a sedative
- Vecuronium - a muscle relaxant (‘paralysing’ drug)
- Furosemide - a diuretic (when your body has shut down, it retains fluid).
Those are just a handful of the drugs - too many to list - that he needed to keep him alive.
Parents who don’t want to vaccinate often talk of concerns about putting drugs into their children’s bodies. When I hear parents of healthy children dithering over this, it really upsets me.
Vaccinations give us a chance to protect our children from being in situations like this, and let me tell you, when your child is critically ill, you don’t query the doctors as they prescribe morphine, fentanyl, ketamine, nitric oxide or noradrenaline. You just sit there praying, weeping, holding their hand and singing them a song in the hope that if they die, the last thing they will hear is your voice and not the beeps of the monitors. This is what it is like to have a child in intensive care.
The thought that some children and parents have been and will be in that situation due to preventable disease is horrifying to me.
One time, I was taking a photograph of Daniel as he lay there unconscious and sedated. I said to our nurse that I hoped she didn’t think it as weird of me to take a picture of him like that. She said it was not weird, and in fact that they encourage parents to do it, as having a picture can help children to process what happened to them. She said in particular, for children who end up with life changing disabilities, such as losing a limb, pictures can be one way of helping them to understand what they went through and just how ill they were. That conversation really stayed with me. I am so sad that Daniel has had to be in PICU so many times, and I hope he is never there again, but I’m very thankful that I have never had to sit there beside his bed thinking “If only I had got him vaccinated”.
It’s been over a year since Daniel has been in PICU and he is thankfully doing much better. He is still on oxygen, but we have recently been given the green light to start giving him short breaks from it. I’m dreading the winter cold and flu season, as it will doubtless mean more hospital stays for us, but I’m hopeful that this year will be his first Christmas at home!
More information on vaccinations, including the MMR vaccine, is available on the NHS website.
Watch why Birmingham and Solihull parents Caroline and Kirsten decided to vaccinate their children:
Read NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG's full press release Parents in Birmingham and Solihull urged to vaccinate their children against mumps, measles and rubella.