Are Flu Jabs for pregnant women OK?

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Flu jabs for pregnant women are safe and essential

Not only are flu jabs safe, but Dr Melinda Heywood an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Wesley Hospital reminds us that they are essential for pregnant women. It is essential pregnant women have the flu vaccination, as winter approaches, regardless of trimester.

Pregnant woman at risk without flu jab

The vaccination is essential for pregnant women, who can be more likely to become seriously ill, be admitted to ICU, or die from influenza when compared to the general population.  They are more susceptible to a severe clinical course due to the normal physiological changes associated with pregnancy, with increases in heart rate and respiratory rate, reduced lung capacity and changes in the immune system.  Interestingly, in the HIN1 pandemic of 2009, pregnant women accounted for 5% of the deaths from HIN1, but made up only 1% of the population.

Free flu jab for pregnant women

The Fluarix Tetra is an inactivate quadrivalent vaccine, and the vaccine is available free of charge for pregnant women under the National Immunisation Program in Australia.  Ideally all health care workers looking after pregnant women, as well as their household contacts and relatives, should also be immunised.  It is safe, with no increase in adverse effects in pregnant women when compared with the general population, and can be given in any trimester.

Safe for mum, safe for baby

Influenza vaccination also provides some protection for the baby from influenza for up to six months post delivery.

Women who catch influenza in pregnancy are at an increased risk of premature labour and delivery if they become infected.  Some studies have shown an increased risk of congenital anomalies, miscarriage and small for gestational age infants.

Importantly, early commencement of antiviral therapy is essential to reduce disease severity, and prevent ICU admission and death.  Therapy should be commenced once a clinical diagnosis has been made, and treatment should begin early, ideally within 48 hours of symptom onset.  Antiviral therapy may be of benefit if initiated after 48 hours, particularly in severe illness.  Pregnant women should be counseled to present to their GPs early for review if they become symptomatic.  The vaccine is not 100% effective, and there are case reports of infection post vaccine, so antiviral therapy should not be withheld from vaccinated symptomatic women.

Please encourage all pregnant women to be vaccinated, and to present to their GPs early if they have any symptoms of influenza.

Further information

  • The Wesley Hospital, located in Auchenflower, Brisbane, is part of UnitingCare Health (UCH), a not-for-profit private hospital group operated by UnitingCare Queensland, which provides health and community services on behalf of the Uniting Church.
  • The hospital group is a major provider of healthcare services in Queensland which operates more than 1000 licensed hospital beds and employs over 4100 people.
  • UnitingCare Health administers The Wesley Hospital and St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane, The Sunshine Coast Private Hospital in Buderim and St Stephen’s Hospital in Hervey Bay. This year the group of hospitals will admit just under 125,000 Queenslanders and perform more than 88,000 surgical procedures.
  • In the last year The Wesley Hospital:
    • Admitted 67,118 inpatients
    • Treated 22,097 emergencies
    • Performed 36,821 operations
    • Delivered 1,400 babies
    • Produced 476,232 meals
    • 430 volunteers provided 50,000 hours to the hospital

By Dr Melinda Heywood

BSC, MBBS(Hons), FRANZCOG

Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

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