Having the flu jab during pregnancy
The seasonal flu vaccine is usually offered to ‘at risk’ groups including young children and pregnant women. Here’s all you need to know if you’re pregnant and thinking about having the vaccination
Do I need to have the flu vaccine while pregnant?
The influenza vaccine is recommended by the NHS for all women who are pregnant during the flu vaccination season – your immune system is lower than usual during pregnancy, so you tend to pick up anything going round more easily. Flu can be really severe for anyone and we know that pregnancy itself increases the risk of complications of flu in both mothers and their babies, so it’s worth getting as much protection as you can.
It’s especially important to have the jab if you also fall into another high risk category – so if you have diabetes or asthma, for example, or any health condition that affects your heart, liver, kidneys or nervous system, make sure your midwife or doctor is aware.
Why is flu so dangerous for pregnant women?
Complications from catching flu during pregnancy can include bronchitis and pneumonia as well as, more rarely, septic shock, meningitis and encephalitis. As well as putting the mother at risk, these conditions can also occasionally be fatal for the baby.
The risks are low, but the outcomes mean it’s definitely worth protecting yourself and your baby.
Can having the flu jab when pregnant harm the baby?
No. Quite the opposite in fact. After your baby is born, he or she will have received protection from the vaccine you had during your pregnancy. Studies show that not only do babies of vaccinated mothers have raised flu antibodies, but they also get less flu than babies of unvaccinated mothers. So you are protecting yourself and your baby. This protection probably lasts for the first few months, although your newborn baby may be less likely to catch flu the winter after he or she is born.
When in pregnancy can you have the flu vaccine?
The influenza vaccine is safe to have at any point in your pregnancy – but you need to have the vaccine at the right time of the year, so that you’re protected against flu before it starts to circulate. The vaccine is usually available from September to January or February.
I didn’t know I was pregnant when the vaccines were being offered. Can I still get it?
Yes, ask your GP or midwife if they are still available and you can have it at the first opportunity. You might be advised to wait until the new batch for that year becomes available.
Where can I have the flu vaccine for pregnancy?
Ask your GP or midwife – one of them will be able to administer it for you. Some community pharmacies also now offer it as a service, so it’s worth asking there, too.
I’m allergic to eggs – is the flu vaccine safe for me to take?
If you have an allergy to hen’s eggs, the normal flu vaccine is not suitable – but you should be offered an alternative vaccine.
Is it safe to have the flu vaccine at the same time as the whooping cough vaccine?
Yes, and lots of pregnant women are offered them both together. However, if the timing of your pregnancy means you’re offered the seasonal flu jab before the whooping cough vaccine (which can only be done after 20 weeks) don’t delay your flu jab in order to have them done together.
I had the flu vaccine last year. Do I still need to have one this year?
Yes, if you’re pregnant again or you had it for another reason last year, you do still need another one. This is because the strains of flu that do the rounds change each year and the vaccines are adapted to reflect this.
Will I feel flu-ey from the jab on the day?
Although the flu vaccine can give you a sore arm or even a mild temperature on the day of the vaccination or the day after, it doesn’t give you flu – the virus it contains is inactive, and any side effects you may experience are not ‘real’ flu symptoms.
I’m pregnant and think I have flu. What should I do?
Call your midwife or doctor and ask advice. Although problems are rare, there is a drug you can be prescribed which reduces the risk of complications from flu, but it has to be taken shortly after the symptoms appear. Other than that, keep yourself warm, rested and well-hydrated.
I'm trying to conceive. My GP has recommended I get the vaccine but says I’ll have to pay for it – is that right?
Unfortunately, yes – if you’re trying to conceive but not yet pregnant, and therefore not in one of the groups currently recommended to receive the flu vaccine, then you won’t automatically get it on the NHS. A GP might recommend immunisation outside of the national guidance on clinical grounds, or alternatively, you can source it privately.
Can you have the flu jab if you’re breastfeeding?
There is no reason why a woman who is breastfeeding cannot be given the flu vaccine. It will help protect her from getting flu and then passing it on to her baby. However, breastfeeding – while important for babies' general health – will not by itself prevent flu infection in your baby, even if you are vaccinated. The flu vaccine can be given to breastfeeding women on the NHS, but only if they are in one of the clinical risk groups.
How thoroughly is the flu jab tested?
Very – the safety of the flu vaccine has been established through numerous research studies, and over many years of use. It is routinely given to pregnant women in countries like the US and Canada.
New strains are put into the vaccine almost every year to optimise its effectiveness, without impacting the overall safety of the vaccine. Vaccine safety is monitored continuously; any potential problems would be rapidly assessed and prompt action would be taken to minimise any risks to people. Longer-term-onset side effects have not been reported from the flu vaccine.
Is there mercury in the flu vaccine? I thought this was harmful in pregnancy.
You might have heard that amalgam fillings are one of the things to avoid in pregnancy. Luckily, the flu vaccines don't have any mercury in them, apart from one vaccine called Fluvirin that contains minuscule amounts, and you won’t be offered this one.
Even though there’s robust scientific evidence that the mercury in vaccines does not, in fact, harm recipients, all childhood vaccines are mercury free and so are the flu vaccines offered to pregnant women.