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Flu vaccine uptake falls in pregnant women

Minister urges mums-to-be to make sure their baby is protected

Less than half of pregnant women in Scotland took up the offer of the flu vaccine this winter, latest figures reveal.

Only 48 per cent of pregnant women were immunised against major flu strains in 2013/14 compared to 53 per cent in 2012/13, despite the vaccine being available to all mums-to-be at any point during their pregnancy from October to March.

And just two-thirds of pregnant women (65 per cent) considered to be at risk took up the vaccine in Scotland last winter, compared to 68.7 per cent the year before.

This decline contrasts to an overall upward trend in the flu immunisation programme, with figures showing the number of at-risk under 65s immunised over the winter rose from 56.1 per cent in 2012/2013 to 57.5 per cent in 2013/2014. Vaccine uptake among those aged over 65 also remained steady, with 76.9 per cent of people in this age group immunised against flu – above the World Health Organisation target of 75 per cent.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson took the opportunity at the end of European Immunisation Week to urge all women to strongly consider getting the flu vaccine if they become pregnant. Run by the World Health Organisation, European Immunisation Week lasts from 22–26 April 2014.

He said: “It goes without saying that all women want to do as much as they can to keep their baby safe and healthy during pregnancy, which is why it’s concerning that less than half of mums-to-be were immunised this winter.

“The flu vaccine is safe and effective, and offers protection to both mother and baby. The Royal College of Midwives, Scotland’s Chief Medical and Chief Nursing Officers have all stated that the flu vaccine will protect both mother and baby at what is an extremely vulnerable time. The flu vaccine cannot give you flu and all the experts agree on this. Not having the vaccine simply isn’t worth the risk, for you or your baby.”

Evidence shows pregnant women have a higher chance of developing complications if they get flu, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. The flu vaccine not only protects mothers from contracting flu but will also protect babies for several months following their birth, when they are at their most vulnerable.

The flu vaccine is free and is available to women at any time throughout their pregnancy between October to February. Pregnant women are advised to contact their local GP for more information about the vaccine.

Gillian Smith, Director for Scotland, Royal College of Midwives said: "It is really important that pregnant women do get their flu vaccine and that midwives encourage them to do that. Women should be aware of the importance of having the seasonal flu vaccine as soon as they become pregnant. If any pregnant woman is unsure about this it is crucial they speak to their midwife or doctor. Don't leave it too late."

Notes To Editors

Background

European Immunization Week promotes the core message that immunization of every child is vital, to prevent diseases and protect life. The goal of European Immunization Week is to increase vaccination coverage by raising awareness of the importance of immunization.

Vaccine uptake figures are average figures provided by GP practices who have submitted data.

Incidences of flu are reported in Health Protection Scotland’s National Influenza Report week ending 20 April 2014.

The flu immunisation programme is the single largest immunisation programme to take place in Scotland.

Getting protected from flu is important for people with underlying health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, MS and other heart, lung and liver problems and those suffering from lowered immunity), as well as pregnant women.

The flu vaccination is available for free to:

  • People aged 65 and over;
  • Those under 65 with a condition that puts them at greater risk;
  • Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
  • Unpaid carers
  • Health and Social care workers

For more information on flu see www.immunisationscotland.org.uk/flu

Channel website: https://www.icaew.com

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