Raising Preemies During a Pandemic: Vaccines Protect The Most Vulnerable

by Erin Just, BScOT, MA, Quality Improvement Coordinator, Vermont Blueprint for Health

In 2019, I welcomed identical twin boys. They arrived earlier than hoped, requiring medical intervention to improve their lung development and minimize any complications. They didn’t have any need for mechanical ventilation, but still had a nearly three-week ICU stay where their heart rates and oxygen levels were constantly monitored, and alarms would bring the care team rushing in. It was surreal and humbling to go from someone who has worked her entire career in healthcare to being on the receiving end of it.

They were eight months old when the pandemic took hold of all our lives in March 2020. We were cautioned that with their medical history, they were particularly high risk. Like most people, our world became very small; we isolated from families, friends, and supports, and the risks of COVID-19 impacted every choice we made. My husband and I got our shots as soon as we were eligible. When most of the world started to open up, those with high-risk young children held back.

We were among the very first to get appointments at our Patient Centered Medical Home when vaccines became available for individuals under five in June 2022. We topped it off with the boys’ flu shots. They were excited and brave, clamoring for who could go first (and pick the very best sticker). We knew by then that COVID-19 vaccines may not prevent illness, but this additional protection was a welcome relief. It allowed us the chance to finally expand their worlds: to visit family, attend school, go to birthday parties, and attend swimming lessons.

Early this autumn, a rhinovirus from preschool put one of the boys into respiratory distress and we spent three days in the hospital. That would be the first of many ER and doctor visits this fall for both of them, with COVID, RSV, and influenza making their rounds through our community. Because they happen to be higher risk for complications from respiratory illnesses, we are especially grateful that their shots are up to date, especially with flu and COVID-19 rates on the rise. Immunization is the best way to protect our children and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases and give everyone their best chance.    

I’m sharing the story of how these vaccines have impacted my family because COVID-19 primary series vaccine uptake for children under the age of five has been low, and flu and other routine vaccinations have declined during the pandemic. As of December 2022, some under five-year-olds are eligible for bivalent boosters. I believe that no one wants their child or other people’s children to be sick. There is a lot of information to wade through regarding vaccinations and schedules. I encourage you to talk to your trusted care provider about your questions and concerns to make an informed decision for your family. And know that it’s never too late to catch up on childhood vaccinations!