The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) are urging all pregnant women to take up the offer of a free flu vaccination this winter to protect themselves and their baby from complications caused by the flu virus.
For the majority of people, flu is usually a self-limiting disease with a relatively quick recovery time. However, developing flu during pregnancy can be serious for a small number of women and their babies. This is because pregnancy can alter how your body handles viral infections, such as flu. This can leave them at a greater risk of complications and other infections including bronchitis – a chest infection that can develop into pneumonia and in rare cases the flu can lead to stillbirth, maternal death and increase the risk of having a miscarriage.
Some of the symptoms of flu including fever, cough, shortness of breath and fatigue, are similar to those of COVID-19 and that is why during the COVID-19 pandemic, the RCOG and RCM strongly recommend that pregnant women take up the offer of free flu vaccination. It is possible to get infected with flu and COVID-19 at the same time, and Public Health England’s research shows that if you get both at the same time you may be more seriously ill.
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:
“We are keen to reassure pregnant women that flu vaccination is safe for women to have at any stage in pregnancy - from the first few weeks right up to their due date, and while breastfeeding. Over the last 10 years, the flu vaccine has been routinely and safely offered to pregnant women in the UK. The vaccine can also pass some protection to babies, which lasts for the first months of their lives.
“Without a vaccine available for coronavirus, it’s even more essential for pregnant women to take up the offer of a vaccination against flu this year. The flu vaccine is free and available from a range of health services, including pharmacists, GP surgeries and maternity services, who have measures in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”
To help stay well this winter, as well as reduce pressure on health services, the RCOG and RCM say it is vital for maternity teams to discuss the offer of the flu vaccine with all women during pregnancy. The flu vaccine is available to all pregnant women from September to February each year. Midwives, pharmacists and GPs can all provide information to pregnant women if they have any questions about the flu vaccine. The RCOG and RCM are also strongly encouraging their members to get the flu vaccine to protect their patients, colleagues and themselves this winter.
Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said:
“COVID-19 means it’s never been more important for pregnant women get vaccinated against flu. Flu can be very serious during pregnancy for both mums-to-be and their babies and leaves women at higher risk of complications and in some cases can develop into pneumonia. That is why we are encouraging all pregnant women to have the vaccine as soon as possible so they are protected from flu viruses circulating this winter. If you are pregnant and have any questions about the flu vaccination or any vaccination in pregnancy, please speak to your midwife or GP who can give you more information and advice.
“The RCM is also urging midwives, maternity support workers and other NHS staff to have the vaccination to protect themselves, their family and the people they care for from the infection. This helps stop them from becoming ill, but more importantly helps stop the spread of infection.”
Dr Camille Smyth, an obstetrician at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust, said:
"As a doctor who cares for pregnant women, I have seen first-hand the harm that respiratory viruses such as the flu can have on some pregnant women. I am pregnant with my second baby and I want to do all I can to stay well this winter, so I will be taking up the offer of the free flu vaccine, which is safe at any stage of pregnancy.”
Notes to Editors
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Sadly, in rare cases, the flu virus can lead to stillbirth and maternal deaths and can increase the risk of having a miscarriage, giving birth early or having a baby with a low birthweight. This is why the flu vaccine is offered free-of-charge to all pregnant women in the UK each winter.
While there is no current evidence that pregnant women are more likely to get seriously ill from coronavirus than other healthy adults, the effect that viruses such as flu have on the immune system in pregnancy is one of the reasons that pregnant women have been included in the list of people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) as a precaution.
COVID-19 is a particular concern for women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, as they have an increased risk of become severely unwell if they contract the virus at this stage of pregnancy, as well as Black, Asian and minority ethnic women and women with other co-morbidities.
For more information about the flu vaccination in pregnancy:
Public Health England’s research suggesting that people infected with both the COVID-19 virus and flu are more at risk can be found here and here.
For more information about COVID-19 and pregnancy:
RCOG: Information for pregnant women and their families
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.
About the RCM
The RCM is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team. We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences and online resources. For more information visit the RCM website at https://www.rcm.org.uk/