First-time mum-to-be Grainne Cushley is 34 weeks pregnant, and explained that getting the flu vaccine was an easy decision to make.
“I’m a normal healthy person and having a healthy pregnancy, but because I’m pregnant I now fall into an “at risk” group. I want to do what is best for me and my unborn baby and having the flu vaccine is protecting us both from the effects of the flu virus,” she said.
“My baby is due to be born just as flu season is about to start so at least now I don’t have to worry about either of us catching flu. 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.”
All pregnant women are being advised by the 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.
Although pregnant women are naturally cautious about taking vaccines, there is now a lot of evidence that flu vaccines are safe in pregnancy. Millions of pregnant women have received the vaccine and careful monitoring has shown the vaccine to be safe for both mother and her baby.
“I felt totally reassured getting the flu vaccine as both my midwife and my GP explained the benefits to me and I have also looked at the written advice in the PHA leaflet,” added Grainne who lives in Crumlin.
“During my pregnancy I have followed all the advice about staying healthy, so I don’t want anything to affect that now. I know that pregnant women are told to avoid most medication but I had no concerns about getting the vaccination as the benefits far out way the risks of not having it.
“I know that it takes 10-14 days for the vaccination to protect me and the baby, so as soon as I was invited I made sure that I was there. I didn’t want to take any chances as we come into the flu season.”
The flu vaccine is now available and it is best to get vaccinated early so you and your baby are protected. Any women who finds out that they are pregnant later in the winter should get the vaccine as soon as they know they are pregnant.
This year’s vaccine includes the three most common strains circulating in other countries this year including the swine flu (H1N1) strain, 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
Dr Maureen McCartney, Consultant in 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. Vaccination also protects pregnant women and babies against other likely circulating strains of flu – babies born to mothers vaccinated during pregnancy are 45–48% less likely to be hospitalised with flu in the six months after birth.
“It is best to be vaccinated early so that 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 as alternative forms of the vaccine are available.”
Grainne added: “I am looking forward to the arrival of my baby and now that I have had the flu vaccine I don’t need to worry about catching the flu.
“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.
“I would encourage all pregnant women to get the flu vaccine as it only takes a minute, is painless and is hassle-free
Notes to the editor
For more information about the flu vaccine for 2012/13, 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.
‘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.
From 2014 all children aged between two to 17 years will receive the flu vaccine usually via a nasal spray. (Children under nine require two doses if they have never had the vaccine before and those over require one.)
- Pierce M, Kurinczuk JJ, Spark P, Brocklehurst P, Knight M; on behalf of UKOSS. Perinatal outcomes after maternal 2009/H1N1 infection: national cohort study. BMJ 2011; 342: d3214
- Poehling KA et al. Impact of maternal immunisation on influenza hospitalisations in infants, Am J Obstet Gynecol 2011; S141-148.