The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) are urging pregnant women to have the flu vaccine alongside the COVID-19 vaccine this winter to protect themselves and their babies from complications caused by the viruses.
The renewed calls come as the latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) show more than 84,000 women have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with around 67,000 receiving both doses.
The majority of people who get the flu usually experience mild symptoms and recover relatively quickly. However, developing flu can be very serious for a small number of pregnant women and their babies. This is because pregnancy can alter how your body handles viral infections, such as flu, leaving women at a greater risk of complications and other infections including bronchitis - a chest infection that can develop into pneumonia. In rare cases the flu can lead to stillbirth, maternal death and increase the risk of having a miscarriage.
The Colleges want to stress that it is possible to be infected with flu and COVID-19 at the same time and this could make pregnant women seriously ill. This is because some of the symptoms of flu including fever, cough, shortness of breath and fatigue.
Earlier this month, figures showed that since July twenty of the 118 patients with COVID-19 –who were the most critically ill and therefore received extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) - were pregnant women.
Hermione Jackson, who is pregnant and in her second trimester, said: “I was very worried about the prospect of catching COVID-19 while pregnant. There’s nothing I want to do more than protect my baby and having looked at all the information available, I felt that the risk of pre-term birth or harm coming to my baby if I caught COVID-19 while pregnant was too great. It felt like the best thing I could do to protect my baby is have the vaccine.
“I wanted to make sure I had to vaccine well before my third trimester as I know from the evidence that is the highest risk time. I was very grateful that I could have the first two doses prior to falling pregnant, and really appreciate that I am in a job that allows me to have the booster. I have also had my flu jab and feel fine, it’s eased my worries and now feel more protected. I would definitely encourage other pregnant women to do the same.”
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said: “We are concerned as we enter the winter months when viruses are particularly rife that pregnant women may be vulnerable to both COVID-19 and the flu. We know the flu and COVID-19 can both individually cause severe illness in pregnancy and that’s why it is vital pregnant women have both vaccines, along with the third dose booster vaccine if they are eligible for it.
“We want to reassure women that the vaccines are both safe in pregnancy and they are the best way of protecting women and their babies from becoming severely ill with COVID-19 and flu.”
Commenting, Gill Walton Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “Having COVID-19 during pregnancy, particularly in the later stages, can have serious consequences for both mothers and their babies. It can double the chance of stillbirth and triples the chance of a preterm birth, which can have long term health impact for the baby. We know that the vaccine is a safe and effective way of preventing this, with hundreds of thousands of pregnant women worldwide having been vaccinated with no adverse effects.
“We really want to reassure women that there now is a lot of real life results, which demonstrate the safety of the vaccine, for both you and your baby. We are also encouraging women to take up the offer of a free flu jab, particularly as we approach cold and flu season. If you have any questions about either vaccine please speak to your midwife, obstetrician or GP so you can get all the facts and make the right decision.”
COVID-19 vaccines are recommended at any stage of pregnancy. One dose of COVID-19 vaccination gives good protection against infection, but two doses are needed to give a good level of immunity. Second doses are given 8 weeks after the first dose.
The COVID-19 booster vaccination is recommended to all eligible pregnant women, including health and social care workers and those with underlying medical conditions. The JCVI advises that the booster vaccine dose should be offered no earlier than six months after the second vaccine dose.
The COVID-19 vaccines or booster can be given at the same time as the flu jab or the whooping cough vaccine. Sometimes it will not be possible to have the vaccines together for logistical reasons. If they aren’t given together then they can be administered at any interval, although separating the vaccines by a day or two will avoid confusion over any side-effects.
For media enquiries please contact the RCOG press office on +44 (0)7740 175342 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors
- Data from over 100,000 covid vaccinations in pregnancy in England and Scotland, and a further 160,000 in the US, show there has been no subsequent harm to the foetus or infant.
- Public Health England (PHE) publish figures for vaccine uptake in pregnant women every 4 weeks in its weekly surveillance reports. The latest figures were published in week 42 (page 8).
- We have an extensive Q&A section for pregnant women and their families on the RCOG website: www.rcog.org.uk/coronavirus-pregnancy
- 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.
About the RCM
The Royal College of Midwives (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.
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.