Congratulations! You're expecting! But you've heard that you'll need to get a flu vaccine this winter and aren't sure why, or what it even entails.
Don't worry, we're here to help — we've worked with the NHS to put together the ultimate flu vaccine Q&A for anyone who's pregnant.
1. First of all, *why* is it so vital to get the flu vaccine if you're pregnant?
There's quite a bit of evidence that anyone who's pregnant — especially those in the later stages — are more likely to develop complications if they get flu. This is because the immune system is naturally weakened during pregnancy leaving you less able to fight off infections. Your body is also under extra demands as it provides your baby with blood and oxygen, as well as carrying them around!
One really common complication is bronchitis, a chest infection that can become serious and develop into pneumonia. As your baby grows, you can’t breathe as deeply, which heightens the risks these illnesses present.
Getting flu while pregnant could also cause your baby to be born prematurely or have a low birth weight. It may even lead to stillbirth or death. You're also more likely to end up in intensive care too.
It's even more important this year to get vaccinated as flu season looks set to be especially bad. Modelling done by the Academy of Medical Sciences suggested that this winter flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) hospital admissions and deaths could be twice that of a "normal" year and could coincide with an increase of COVID-19 infections, and their associated long-term consequence, so make sure you and your bub are protected!
2. What about the COVID-19 vaccine?
If you're pregnant, it's also important that you're protected from COVID-19 as well as flu, as both pose a risk to you and your baby. So if you haven't had your COVID-19 vaccination, it's time to book yourself for one!
If you had the second dose of your COVID-19 vaccination over six months ago and have a health condition that puts you at high risk from the virus, then you can also book yourself in for a booster dose that will give you longer-lasting protection.
3. How does the flu vaccine work and what goes into it?
The flu vaccine uses a tiny amount of flu antigen to help your body make protective antibodies. So if you come into contact with flu at a later date, your immune system will respond to the infection quickly and know how to fight it off.
Better still, if you're pregnant these antibodies get passed onto your baby and will last for the first few months of their life. This is super important, because babies are more vulnerable to flu but vaccines aren't recommended for anyone under 6 months.
If you want to know the full list of ingredients for a specific vaccine you can search it at medicines.org.uk.
4. Is the flu vaccine safe in pregnancy?
Flu vaccines offered to pregnant people contain only "killed" (inactivated) flu viruses. It's impossible for these to cause you to catch actual flu. Lots of people catch colds soon after getting the flu jab, and will sometimes think it was caused by the vaccine. It isn't!
These flu vaccines have been given routinely to all pregnant people in many countries since 2009 with no issue.
Loads of studies have also shown that it's safe to have the flu vaccine during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks right up to your expected due date. It's also safe for anyone who's breastfeeding to have the vaccine.
5. I’ve only just found out I'm pregnant — do I still need the flu vaccine?
The NHS recommend that all pregnant people get the flu vaccine, whatever stage of pregnancy they're at.
6. Can I skip the vaccine if I'm extra careful not to catch it?
Not really. Whenever an infected person coughs or sneezes, they get tiny droplets of saliva over everything. Breathe those in or touch any surface they're on and you could find yourself with their infection.
So no matter how much you wash your hands or apply antibac, you're still relying on other people to cover their mouth when they sneeze — and let's be honest, not everyone does!
7. What risks are associated with the flu vaccine?
Not many — vaccines go through super rigorous safety testing before they're allowed to go anywhere near you. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) also has to approve any vaccine before its release.
They're still monitored after they go into use too. There's even a 'yellow card' system operated by the MHRA that anyone can use to report a suspected vaccine side effect that's out of the norm.
Most side effects are mild and only last a day or so. You might get a sore arm (though this is more likely in over 65s), a slightly raised temperature, and some muscle aches.
Any more serious reactions, like allergic reactions, are incredibly rare — it's much more likely to have a terrible outcome from flu than from a vaccine. And if you did have a bad reaction, the NHS has all the equipment to deal with this.
8. Are there different types of flu vaccine?
Yes! There are several types, and you'll be offered the one most effective for you, depending on your age. For adults under 65, there are different types including low-egg and egg-free ones!
9. Is there any reason I shouldn't have the flu vaccine?
Most people can have the vaccine, but there are some exceptions, mainly centred around allergies.
Anyone who's had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of the vaccine shouldn't take it. If you are severely allergic to any ingredients in the vaccine, (check at medicines.org.uk) you should also speak to your GP about it.
Some flu vaccines do contain a small amount of egg protein. So if you have an egg allergy, you should request an egg-free inactivated flu vaccine or a vaccine with a very low egg protein (ovalbumin) content.
10. I had the flu vaccine last year, so why do I need to get it again?
Unfortunately, the viruses that cause flu change every year because they're sneaky lil' suckers. So every year, medical professionals identify the strains of flu that are most likely to appear and create a tailored vaccine just for them. Clever, right?
11. When and where can I get my vaccine?
The sooner the better! The vaccine was made available in September, and autumn is the best time to get it (before the virus starts to spread).
You can contact your GP practice about the vaccination, or your midwife may give you a flu vaccine at an antenatal clinic. Some community pharmacies also offer the flu vaccine on the NHS.
Also, don't stress if you get pregnant later in the flu season — the vaccine will be available throughout winter. And if for any reason you miss having the vaccine, you can still have it right up until you go into labour.
12. Can I have the flu jab at the same time as the whooping cough vaccine?
You can, but please don't delay your flu jab so as to get both done in one fell swoop. If you are pregnant you’re at risk of flu turning really nasty at any stage of pregnancy, so you really need to get vaccinated ASAP.
The best time to get vaccinated against whooping cough is from 16 weeks up to 32 weeks of pregnancy, but you can get vaccinated from flu at any time.
13. How long will the vaccine take to work?
It can take up to 10 to 14 days for the flu vaccine to work so keep being extra careful during that time period.
14. I'm pregnant and think I have flu. What should I do?
Get in touch with your GP as soon as you can. There's a prescribed medicine you can take that might help with symptoms or reduce your risk of complications if you do have flu, but it needs to be taken very soon after symptoms appear!