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Doctors and midwives express concern as six in ten pregnant women miss out on the flu jab

News 8 December 2017

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) are reminding all pregnant women to take up the offer of free flu vaccination this winter to protect themselves and their baby from complications caused by the flu virus. This comes after statistics published today (7 December) by Public Health England reveal just four in ten (43.1%)* mums-to-be have received the vaccine so far this winter. While 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.

For the majority of people, flu is usually a self-limiting disease with recovery generally within a week. However, 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 1 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 Royal College of Midwives 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.

Dr Alison Wright, Vice President at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), 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.”

Louise Silverton, Director for Midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), 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”.

Dr Richard Pebody, Acting Head of Respiratory Diseases Department at Public Health England (PHE), said: 

“Vaccination is the best form of protection we have against flu. We urge all pregnant women to get their vaccination especially ahead of the Christmas period when they’re likely to come into contact with young family members who tend to be super-spreaders of flu.”

[ENDS]

*HPE Weekly National Influenza Report. 7 December 2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/665588/Weekly_national_influenza_report_week_49_2017.pdf

**MBRRACE-UK Maternal, Newborn and Infant Clinical Outcome Review Programme. Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care. December 2014 (https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/mbrrace-uk)

***For more information on the Emma’s Diary/Royal College of Midwives survey on flu and whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy see https://www.rcm.org.uk/news-views-and-analysis/news/women-want-more-support-and-advice-from-health-professionals-about-flu and http://www.emmasdiary.co.uk/lifestyle/celebrity-baby-news/pregnant-women-flu-jabs-health-concerns

For more information about the flu vaccination in pregnancy, please visit the NHS Choices website:
https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/flu-jab-vaccine-pregnant.aspx

Note to Editors

For media enquiries please contact the RCOG press office on +44 (0)20 7045 6773 or email pressoffice@rcog.org.uk

About the RCOG
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a medical charity that champions the provision of high quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.