Women can find they are bombarded with advice during their pregnancy and face making tough choices about what is best for them and their baby.
However, one Northern Ireland mum-to-be said her decision to get the flu jab this year required no debating at all.
“It was crystal clear to me that I absolutely had to get vaccinated against the flu as I now fall into an at risk group due to being pregnant, despite being otherwise in excellent health,” explained Colleen McVeigh originally from Armagh but now living in Glengormley, Newtownabbey.
“I contacted my GP surgery quickly after seeing the advice from the Public Health Agency as I knew that it would take 10-14 days for the vaccination to protect me and the baby and I didn’t want to take any chances as we come into the flu season.”
All pregnant women are being advised by the Public Health Agency (PHA) to get the flu vaccine, no matter what stage of their pregnancy, as they are more likely to develop serious complications as a result of flu compared to women who are not pregnant.
As well as protecting against the most common strains of flu, this year’s vaccine includes swine flu (H1N1), which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. Pregnant women admitted to hospital with swine flu (H1N1) infection have 3–4 times higher rates of preterm birth, 4–5 times higher rates of stillbirth and 4–6 times higher rates of neonatal death.1
These were the stark facts that grabbed Colleen’s attention: “My husband works in the healthcare profession so between him telling me these statistics and my midwife handing me a leaflet detailing all these risks to pregnant women, I was well informed about the dangers to both me and my baby, including the fact it could be fatal, if I did catch the flu,” she said.
“I’m so relieved the vaccine contains one for swine flu as last year’s stories about pregnant women dying from swine flu really stuck in my mind and scared me. However, now I’ve had the flu jab I can go into the flu season confident that I’ve done everything in my power to protect me and my baby. If I hadn’t had my vaccine I would really be concerned at this stage in the season as winter is nearly here. At least now I have one less thing to worry about.
“And it’s great news that by me having the flu jab I have also helped lower the chances of my baby being admitted to hospital with flu for up to six months after it is born as I will be passing on the antibodies to my unborn child.”
Initial concerns about having a vaccine during her pregnancy were quickly eliminated after Colleen spoke to her midwife.
The first-time mum-to-be explained: “It just struck me that throughout your pregnancy you are told not to take any medication other than paracetemol and not to eat certain foods so I just wondered at first about me having the flu jab. But when I discovered that because of my pregnancy I had a higher risk of developing complications if I caught the flu then there really wasn’t much to think about.
“At first I was also worried that getting the jab would give me the flu as I did not obviously want to risk harming my baby, so I was very reassured by the PHA advice and by my GP and midwife that this is definitely not the case.”
The 30 year old financial adviser said she felt less anxious by the fact the flu vaccine is licensed for use in pregnancy by the European Medicines Agency.
She added: “I found it helpful to be told categorically that the flu vaccine is safe for me and my baby and that millions of pregnant women have received the vaccine and that after careful monitoring in lots of countries the vaccine has been proved to be safe for both mum and baby.”
Getting the flu jab, could not be easier according to the expectant mum: “I phoned my local GP, made my appointment and then attended a flu clinic at my GP’s surgery. I do not really like needles or giving blood so I wasn’t looking forward to it but the jab was over in seconds and was pain-free. Afterwards I was asked to sit in the waiting room to make sure I didn’t have any unusual reactions and then I was free to go home.
“I would encourage other pregnant women to get the flu jab, if they have not already done so, as my experience was so hassle-free. Lots of my friends have already followed my advice.
“I would rather be safe than sorry and be fit and well to look after my baby when it is born. I can now look forward to the birth in December with peace of mind.”
Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection), PHA, said: “While swine flu is a mild illness for most people, it can be very serious for those in at risk groups. Experience in the UK and other countries suggests that pregnant women are around four times more likely to develop serious complications as a result of swine flu compared to women who are not pregnant. These complications include pneumonia and heart and lung problems and pregnant women are about 10 times more likely to become so ill they need to be admitted to hospital. Babies born to mothers vaccinated during pregnancy are 45–48% less likely to be hospitalised with flu in the six months after birth.”2
Dr Doherty continued: “It is best to be vaccinated early so you and your baby are protected. If you become pregnant later in the winter you should get the vaccine as soon as you know you are pregnant. I would advise any pregnant woman who is feeling anxious about getting the flu vaccine to talk to their GP for advice. Pregnant women with a serious allergy to hens’ eggs should also discuss this with their GP.”
For more information about the flu vaccine for 2011/12, visit www.fluawareni.info or speak to your GP/nurse or member of staff at the antenatal clinic in your local Health and Social Care Trust.
Notes to the editor
‘At risk’ groups for flu include:
- Anyone aged 65 or over, even if they feel fit and healthy at the moment.
- Pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy).
- Children and adults who have any of the following medical conditions:
– a chronic chest condition such as asthma;
– a chronic heart condition;
– chronic kidney disease;
– lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy;
– a chronic neurological condition such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects your nervous system, such as cerebral palsy;
– any other serious medical condition – check with your doctor if you are unsure.
- Children who have previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection.
- Children attending schools for those with severe learning difficulties.
- Anyone living in a residential or nursing home.
- Main carers for elderly or disabled people.