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Doctors are the key to flu vax uptake

The advice given by health care providers is crucial in persuading pregnant women to get vaccinated against influenza, according to a University of Sydney study published today in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Kerrie Wiley, a PhD candidate in the University's Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, and her co-authors wrote that "pregnant women with influenza have an increased risk of complications, including hospitalisation, intensive care unit admission, preterm delivery and, in severe cases, death."

"A growing body of evidence supports the safety and effectiveness of inactivated influenza vaccine during pregnancy," they wrote.

In addition, babies born to vaccinated mothers have a reduced risk of contracting influenza in the first six months of life.

The authors surveyed 815 pregnant women from antenatal clinics at three demographically diverse NSW hospitals during the 2011 influenza season in an effort to determine what proportion were vaccinated and factors associated with agreeing to be vaccinated during pregnancy.

Ms Wiley said what they found was that just 27 percent of the surveyed women had been vaccinated.

"However, women who were advised by their health care providers to be vaccinated were 20 times more likely to have had the vaccination," she said.

"But only 42 percent of the women said they had been advised by their doctors to take it.

"Concern about the safety of the vaccine for the baby was negatively associated with vaccination.

"However, of the 502 women who expressed concern, 339 [68 percent] agreed they would have the vaccine if their doctor or midwife recommended it.

"Our results show the importance of health care provider recommendation in pregnant women's willingness to receive influenza vaccination."

Providing information about the vaccine to pregnant women was only part of the solution, the authors concluded.

"Motivation and education of antenatal care providers is also important," they wrote.

"Information for pregnant women and providers, coupled with easily accessible vaccine, has the potential to substantially increase maternal influenza vaccine coverage."

In an editorial in the same issue of the MJA, Heath Kelly, adjunct professor at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at Australian National University in Canberra and his coauthor Dr Nicholas Kelley, Research Associate at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at University of Minnesota, pointed out that influenza vaccination of pregnant women was an important issue.

"In Australia, the risk of hospitalisation with pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza for pregnant women compared with non-pregnant women aged 15 to 44 years was increased by about five-fold and for admission to intensive care by about seven-fold," Professor Kelly wrote.

Media enquiries: Rachel Gleeson, 02 9351 4630, 0481 004 782

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