News from our partners: Pregnant women urged to protect themselves and their baby this winter with flu and COVID-19 vaccinations

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23/10/2023 – Permalink Related topics: Coronavirus / Health / Partner organisations

News from our partners UK Health Security Agency

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is strongly encouraging all pregnant women, particularly women from Black British Caribbean and Black British African communities, to book their flu and COVID-19 vaccinations to protect themselves and their babies against the heightened risks of these infections during pregnancy.

Pregnancy changes how the body responds to infections like flu and COVID-19 and puts them, and their babies, at higher risk of complications requiring hospitalization than non-pregnant women. The flu and COVID-19 vaccines are the best defence we have against serious infections. Vaccinated women have a lower risk of severe disease requiring hospital treatment and it reduces the risk to their unborn child of stillbirth and prematurity.

All vaccines go through a regulatory approval process to ensure they meet strict safety and effectiveness checks. Millions of women in England have had the flu vaccine during pregnancy since this was introduced in 2011. Additionally, over 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in pregnancy, with more than 400,000 women receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine before conceiving and going on to give birth.

Hadijah Bbosa, Senior Health Protection Practitioner with UKHSA West Midlands, said:-

“Pregnant women are at increased risk of severe illness and hospitalisation from flu and COVID-19. This is because your immune system is weakened in order to help your pregnancy, which means you’re also less able to fight off any infections. It’s not just the mum-to-be who is at risk of complications, but also the unborn baby. Problems include premature birth or low birth weight, but in serious cases flu can cause loss of pregnancy or still birth.

“That’s why we’re urging all pregnant women to protect themselves and their baby by getting their free winter vaccines – which provide the best protection. The vaccines also give some level of protection to your newborn in the first few months of life, particularly important for flu, as babies under 6 months old are at high risk of severe disease.

“It’s natural to have questions about vaccines during pregnancy, so please discuss any worries you may have with your midwife or other healthcare professional. They will be able to give you the facts to reassure you about the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines. For those women who avoid pork products, there is a version of the flu vaccine which does not use porcine gelatine in its production, so that should not be an issue to prevent getting your vaccine.”

 Dr Ranee Thakar, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:-

“We are urging all pregnant women to get their free COVID-19 and flu vaccines, to give themselves and their babies the best protection this winter. Both vaccines are safe and can be given at any stage in pregnancy.

“The low vaccine uptake last winter was really concerning, as we know pregnant women are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and flu infection and both viruses can cause severe illness in pregnancy.

“Maternity and wider NHS staff are well-trusted by the public, so we encourage all health professionals to recommend and discuss vaccination with pregnant women at every available opportunity.”

 

Birte Harlev-Lam OBE Executive Director, Midwife said:-

“The COVID-19 and flu vaccines are safe for pregnant women and having them is the best protection against these potentially dangerous infections. I really encourage you to consider having the vaccines to protect yourself, your baby, and your family. 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 for you.”

 Three reasons to get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy:- 

  • Reduce the chance of you becoming seriously unwell

Pregnancy is tough enough without adding in a serious illness on top. The changes in your immune system in pregnancy and its effects on breathing means you are more likely to become seriously ill with respiratory illnesses like flu or COVID-19, compared to someone who isn’t pregnant. The vaccines are the best defence against serious illness and hospitalisation.

  • Reduce the chance of complications for your unborn child – including pre-term birth

The vaccines also help protect you during pregnancy and reduce the chance of premature birth, low birth weight, and of you getting infected and passing it to your newborn baby.

  • The vaccines will protect your baby for a few months after they are born – keeping them healthy through winter

Flu can also be very serious in young babies who are at particularly high risk of severe disease needing hospital treatment. The flu vaccines pass on protection to your baby so when they are born, they have the best chance of staying healthy.

 

Both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time. To ensure the highest level of protection, it is important to receive both vaccines in the autumn to be protected through winter. This means you are protected when infections circulate more widely and that your baby is protected against flu in their first few months of life.  Don’t worry if you find out that you’re pregnant later on – you can have the flu vaccine right up until 31 March 2024.

You can book your COVID-19 and flu vaccination appointment online, by downloading the NHS app or by calling 119 if you can’t get online. You can also book your flu vaccine by finding a local pharmacy or through your GP practice and some maternity services. 

With robust UK and global studies supporting the safety and advantages of both COVID-19 and flu vaccines for women and their babies at any stage of pregnancy, pregnant women should not delay. Your health and your baby’s health are important.


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