Protecting pregnant women against flu this winter

By Jane Scattergood Midwifery Adviser at Public Health England on 01 November 2018 Flu Vaccination

With another flu season almost upon us, Jane Scattergood, Midwifery Advisor at Public Health England, highlights the importance of encouraging pregnant women to get vaccinated.

Flu, or influenza, is a viral infection that mainly affects the respiratory system. It is usually characterised by fever, chills, headache, aching muscles, joint pain and fatigue.

As midwives will be well aware, pregnant women are at higher risk from complications of flu and catching it can be very serious for them and their baby. As a trusted source of advice for women throughout their pregnancy, you play a vital role in providing important information to help protect them from the risks.

Encouraging women to take up their free flu vaccination is one of the most important ways to protect pregnant women and their unborn baby from flu. It also offers some protection for babies once they are born. This year, the ‘quadrivalent’ vaccine is available to protect against the four circulating strains of flu. The vaccine is free for all pregnant women and is available through GP surgeries, local pharmacies and, in some cases, through midwifery services.

It’s important to reinforce that the flu jab contains only inactivated components and can be given to pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy. Women who are already pregnant at the start of the flu season should get vaccinated as soon as possible when the vaccine becomes available. This is particularly important for women in the later stages of pregnancy, to ensure they and their baby benefit from the vaccine before delivery. Women who become pregnant during the influenza season should also be offered the vaccine or signposted to where they can receive it.

Alongside encouraging women to get vaccinated, it’s also important to reinforce the “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it” messages – “Catch” any sneezes in a tissue, “Bin” any tissues immediately and “Kill” the virus by washing your hands with soap and warm water.

The vaccine remains the best defence we have to protect pregnant women against the spread of flu this winter. Your help in encouraging as many women as possible to take up the vaccine will be crucial. Finally, remember that children are super-spreaders of flu, so if pregnant women already have small children they should be vaccinated as well if eligible.  More information on the children’s flu immunisation programme can be found here.

As frontline healthcare workers, getting vaccinated against flu yourself will also help prevent spread of infection to vulnerable pregnant women and babies.

You can access free resources encouraging pregnant women to get vaccinated against flu here.