The dreaded flu season is about to strike and The European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease (ESCMID) is concerned that too many pregnant women are dodging their flu vaccine.

The usual advice for pregnant mums is to avoid all non-urgent medications and vaccinations, but the inactivated flu vaccine is one of the few exceptions to the rule. Experts say that not only is the vaccine beneficial to the mum, it could also help protect her baby from catching the flu during the first few months of life.

Despite this, uptake of the vaccine by pregnant women is generally low. The numbers are so low, in fact, that Professor Susanna Esposito who leads the ESCMID’s Study Group for Vaccines has made it her mission to promote the benefits of the flu vaccine to anyone who might be feeling reluctant.

Flu vaccine benefits for pregnant woman and their babies

  • The inactivated flu vaccine is safe for pregnant women and does not harm the foetus. It protects the mother against flu for the season she is pregnant, making it less likely she will develop influenza-related complications and hospitalisation.
  • The inactivated vaccine itself does not pass into the blood system of the foetus, so the vaccine is safe for both mother and baby.
  •  After vaccination, antibodies that develop in the mother’s blood pass through the placenta into the baby’s system, conferring secondary immunity that lasts for the first few months of life. The mother’s vaccination therefore protects her baby from getting flu once it’s born.
  • The protection for very young babies is particularly important because no flu vaccine is approved for use in infants under 6 months old. Babies born to unvaccinated mothers have little defence against a flu infection. Babies aged 0 – 5 months are five times more likely to be hospitalised due to flu than children aged 6 – 23 months. Although very low, flu-related deaths are also the highest in this age group, with 0.88 deaths per 100,000 children infected.

Backing up Professor Esposito’s advice, Oxford University’s Vaccine Group states that women who have been vaccinated against flu are less likely to give birth prematurely or have a low-birthweight baby.

When can I have the flu jab?

The flu vaccine is available from September until January or February. It’s advised that anyone eligible gets the vaccine as soon as possible to benefit for the whole of the flu season.

Contact your midwife or GP to find out where you can go to get the injection.

Are there any side effects?

The flu vaccine doesn’t contain a live virus, so it can’t cause the flu. However, you might experience a mild fever and muscle aches for a day or so following the jab. The injection site might also feel slightly sore.

In rare cases, the vaccine can lead to a severe allergic reaction and medical staff are trained to deal with this quickly.

If you have severe side effects that worsen or don’t improve over time, contact a pharmacist or your GP.