Tiny Senan Fraser received the first of his childhood vaccinations in the Rotunda Hospital before he should have even been born.
At 63 days old, having been ventilated five times endured countless procedures, his parents Stuart and Caoimhe gave consent for their strong son to get the vaccines. Although it was difficult to see him endure more needles, their feeling was one of relief. “Was it difficult to consent? Of course I wished that he didn’t have to have more injections in his tiny muscles and I wondered if his little body could respond effectively, but mostly I felt a sense of relief that vaccines were available to protect our son from diseases that have caused so many deaths,” said mum Caoimhe.
Senan was delivered by emergency caesarean section in December at 25 weeks and six days gestation.
“He weighed just 765 grams after pregnancy induced hypertension became a risk to both Senan and I,” said Caoimhe.
“As an Assistant Director of Nursing in Infection Prevention and Control in a large teaching hospital in Dublin, I have spent years educating about outbreak prevention. I have had the opportunity to review the evidence and know that vaccines work. There is little you can control as a mother of a premature baby that is covered in wires and tubes.
“People often asked me at the beginning ‘how can you bear to leave him every night?’ I coped by trying to be as practical as possible to enable me to put one foot in front of the other. Part of that was to rely on my knowledge of what is safe care.
“It soon became apparent that the quality of the care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was exceptional and all care provided included and focused on reducing the risk of Senan acquiring an infection as much as is possible. I knew that providing safe care during influenza season included having a good staff uptake of the influenza vaccine.”
She said that learning that the Rotunda Hospital had over 80% compliance rate of uptake reassured her that staff were thinking of how to protect little Senan before they even walked through the door of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“High vaccination uptake rates indicated to both my husband Stuart and I that the staff believed in evidence-based care, which helped us trust the other life-saving decisions they had to make for Senan. We had both gotten the vaccine in October, and it was one way we knew we were protecting him.”
She said that they did not ask any staff members in the NICU had they received the influenza vaccine, nor did they request that they only wanted vaccinated staff to care for Senan.
“I did it for the same reasons that patients do not complain: I did not want to upset the people that were working so skillfully to keep our son alive. Would I have regretted this decision if Senan had developed a severe infection? I’ll never know, but I do know that every person who took the time to take the vaccine increased the chance of survival for Senan,” explained Caoimhe.
“How can the result of that ever truly be measured? In the future, will the people that Senan loves or that love him, the people that he makes laugh, educates, or the impact his life will have in the world be attributed to vaccine uptake? Of course not. Healthcare has such complex delivery that there is millons of ‘what ifs’ that could have changed his path thus far. In addition to the superb skill of the staff, watching the scientific inventions and practices that have kept Senan alive has been somewhat terrifying, fascinating and most importantly successful as we finally brought Senan home after over three months in the NICU.
“Senan and his comrades in the NICU receiving their vaccinations have to be the heroes of this story. The tenacity, strength and grace of the tiny babies in the unit is a truly unique thing to witness and very humbling. But the staff will always be my heroes too for protecting our son by getting vaccinated. You have made a difference and helped Senan along his way. Thank you.