Pregnant women urged to have flu jab

By Julie Griffiths on 13 December 2017 Flu Vaccination

The RCM and RCOG are reminding all pregnant women to take up the offer of a free flu vaccination this winter to protect themselves and their baby.

The reminder comes after statistics published by Public Health England reveal just four in 10 (43.1%) mums-to-be have received the vaccine so far this winter. Although this is a slight improvement on uptake in 2016 (40.8%) and 2015 (35.6%), it’s vital that more pregnant women come forward for the vaccine.

While flu is usually a self-limiting disease for the majority of people, pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to severe infection, and in some cases can lead to stillbirth and maternal deaths.

During pregnancy, a woman’s immune system naturally weakens to ensure that the pregnancy is successful and leaves her less able to fight off infections. That means if a woman catches the flu while pregnant she has a higher chance of getting bronchitis or pneumonia.

Pregnant women with flu are also at a greater risk of having a miscarriage, giving birth early or having a baby with a low birthweight. Between 2009 and 2012, 36 pregnant women died from flu in the UK and Ireland, accounting for one in 11 of all maternal deaths during this period.

The flu vaccine has been routinely offered to pregnant women in the UK since 2010. Recently, the RCM published the results of a survey, which found 44% of pregnant women will avoid vaccines during pregnancy because they are worried it will harm their unborn child’s health as well as their own.

However, studies have shown that the flu vaccine is both safe and effective. Pregnant women who have had the flu vaccine while pregnant also pass some protection on to their babies, which lasts for the first few months of their lives.

RCM director for midwifery Louise Silverton said: ‘The flu is a highly infectious disease, which can be very serious during pregnancy for both mums-to-be and their babies. We are urging all pregnant women to have the vaccine as soon as possible so they’re protected from flu viruses circulating this winter.

‘One of the most important findings to come out of our survey was that pregnant women want and need more time to talk about vaccinations with their midwives before they make a decision. Having that time is so important because there can be misconceptions about some vaccinations and although it is useful to have leaflets and websites to refer to, there is nothing quite like having a real conversation, to talk through any concerns or question.’

RCOG vice president Dr Alison Wright said: ‘We are very concerned that only four in 10 pregnant women have taken up the offer of a flu jab so far this winter. Flu can be a very serious illness in pregnant women and the best way to avoid getting this is by having the vaccination.

‘We often hear from women who are concerned the vaccine will harm their baby, but current evidence shows it is safe during pregnancy. ‘While we are encouraged that uptake is slightly higher than in previous years, we still want more pregnant women to come forward for the vaccine from their midwife, GP or community pharmacist.’