Pregnant women are being urged to protect themselves and their unborn babies from flu complications by getting a free vaccination.
Influenza, commonly known as flu, is a highly infectious viral illness. For most healthy people, the seasonal flu is mostly unpleasant. However, pregnant women are at particular risk from the more serious effects of flu, which can lead to complications, hospital admission and in some cases even death.
Pregnant women are four times more likely to develop serious illness and up to five times more likely to be admitted to hospital as compared to the general population. And this risk increases in the later stages of pregnancy.
In 2019-20, around 1600 of pregnant women received the flu vaccination which is around 37% of the pregnant women listed and so far in 2020-21 around 18% of pregnant women have taken up the offer of a free flu vaccine.
Public Health Northamptonshire, Northamptonshire GP Core Group, Kettering and Northampton General Hospital’s maternity services are urging pregnant women to opt for their free flu vaccination and stay protected from the virus.
With the risk of COVID-19 circulating, this winter more than ever, the flu vaccination is vital to keep pregnant women and their babies safe and protected. As seen with COVID-19, respiratory illnesses can be extremely serious and can be fatal.
Those with co-infection of the two viruses are more at risk of severe respiratory complications or death, and most cases of coinfection were in older people and those at ‘high risk’, like pregnant women.
Babies born to women who have had the flu are up to four times more likely to be born prematurely and be born with a low birth weight. Flu in pregnancy can even lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, reduced growth and even death in the first week of life.
The NHS offers pregnant women and their babies a free, safe and effective vaccination to reduce the chance of getting the flu and reduce the risk of these complications.
Mara Tonks Head of Midwifery at Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “The flu vaccination is the best protection against flu and, contrary to popular belief, it is not a live vaccine which gives you flu. It’s safe during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks through to the woman’s due date and doesn’t carry any risks for mother or baby.
“Having this vaccination during pregnancy can help protect your baby for several months after they are born, which is important as babies cannot be vaccinated before 6 months. The flu vaccine can safely be given to pregnant women at the same time as the whooping cough vaccine. “
Trish Ryan, Deputy Director of Midwifery at Northampton General Hospital said: “The flu vaccination is safe during any stage of pregnancy from the first few weeks through to the woman’s due date and doesn’t carry any risks for baby or mother. The vaccine administered is not a live vaccine and contrary to popular belief, it does not give you flu.
“Having this vaccination during pregnancy can help protect your baby for several months after they are born, which is important as babies cannot be vaccinated before 6 months. The flu vaccine can also safely be given to pregnant women at the same time as the whooping cough vaccine. “
Dr Annapurna Sen from Public Health Northamptonshire said: “Only 964 pregnant women have received their flu vaccination and there are another 4,387 pregnant women residing in Northamptonshire who have not had their vaccination yet. If you are one of them, speak to your midwife, GP or pharmacist to arrange for your free flu vaccination.”
Find out more about pregnancy and the flu vaccine
You are also eligible to receive a free flu jab if you:
- Are 65 and over (including those who'll be 65 by 31 March 2021)
- Have certain health conditions
- Are in a long-stay residential care
- Receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
- Live with someone who's at high risk from coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list)
- Are a frontline health or social care worker.