Seasonal influenza vaccine (‘flu jab’)

(Date: November 2017. Version: 3)

This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by Public Health England on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.

What are they?

Seasonal flu vaccines stimulate the body to produce antibodies that fight flu. A different seasonal flu vaccine is produced each year because the flu strains that circulate tend to change each winter. This is why having been vaccinated against flu before will not necessarily protect you in a different year.

The seasonal flu vaccine is offered each year in the UK to ‘priority groups’ who are most at risk of flu complications that could lead to hospitalisation, like pneumonia. These groups include pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and severe obesity.

What are the benefits of having a flu vaccination in pregnancy?

Flu vaccination can prevent flu infection and its complications, some of which are more likely in pregnant women. This is thought to be due to the changes that naturally occur to the lungs and circulatory system particularly after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Flu vaccination might also help to prevent miscarriages, stillbirth, and preterm birth as these outcomes are more likely in pregnant women with flu.

When a pregnant woman receives the flu vaccine during the latter half of pregnancy, the antibodies she produces cross the placenta to her unborn baby. These antibodies protect the baby from flu in the first few weeks of life.

Are there any risks of having a flu vaccination during pregnancy?

Many thousands of pregnant women who have received flu vaccines have been studied. Overall, the data do not raise concern of harmful effects on the baby.

Are there any alternatives to having a flu vaccine?

No. While good hygiene measures (such as regular handwashing, avoiding touching the face) can reduce a person’s chance of catching flu, vaccination is the best way to prevent flu infection.

What if I prefer not to receive a flu vaccination during pregnancy?

The flu vaccine will be offered at one of your antenatal appointments and you can choose whether or not to have it. Pregnant women with conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and obesity should be aware that these may further increase the chance of complications from flu, and so vaccination may be even more important for them. In the 2020 winter flu season while coronavirus is circulating, the Department of Health is strongly recommending flu vaccination to everyone offered it. This is because getting flu and coronavirus at the same time could cause serious illness. Your doctor or midwife will be happy to answer any questions that you might have when considering having the vaccine.

Will my baby need extra monitoring?

All pregnant women in the UK should be offered a detailed anomaly scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy as part of their routine antenatal care. No extra monitoring is required following flu vaccination in pregnancy.

Are there any risks to my baby if the father received the flu vaccine?

We would not expect any increased risk to your baby if the father has had a flu vaccination.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet please discuss them with your health care provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from www.uktis.org.

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General information 

Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks.  They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.

Medicines use in pregnancy

Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby.  There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development.  How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.   

Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.

   

www.medicinesinpregnancy.org

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the individual care and advice of your health care provider. New information is continually becoming available. Whilst every effort will be made to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date at the time of publication, we cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes following decisions made on the basis of this information. We strongly advise that printouts should NOT be kept for any length of time, or for “future reference” as they can rapidly become out of date.

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