Flu jabs extended to pregnant women

Exclusive - Vaccination programme will offer immunity to newborns and their mothers.

All pregnant women are set to receive flu jabs from next year in an extension to the influenza vaccination programme, according to a DoH vaccine adviser.

The move comes after latest research found that vaccinating mothers could offer protection to newborns.

The US study, involving 340 mothers and their infants, found there was a 63 per cent reduction in influenza illness among infants born to women who were vaccinated while pregnant.

The number of fever-linked respiratory illnesses fell by 29 per cent in infants whose mothers had received flu jabs and by 36 per cent in the mothers.

Currently, the vaccination programme recommends flu jabs for patients aged 65 and over and those in at-risk groups such as patients with diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases and those with chronic heart disease.

Dr Douglas Fleming, a member of the Joint Committee on Immunisation and Vaccination influenza subgroup, told GP: 'This is just the sort of research that we need to influence DoH policy.

'Previously, there had not been a detailed level of evidence to support vaccinating pregnant women.

'It is very likely that pregnant women will now be vaccinated from next year.'

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesman and Berkshire GP, backed the call for pregnant women to be vaccinated against flu.

'Pregnant women will benefit greatly themselves from receiving a flu vaccination. They should receive the jab after the first trimester.

'This is the first study to show that this benefit can be extended to the infants whose mothers are vaccinated during pregnancy.'

Vaccinating pregnant women can give babies a degree of immunity against flu at a time when they are most vulnerable and cannot be vaccinated themselves, namely those below the age of six months, added Dr Kassianos.

Dr Anthony Harnden, an expert in childhood infections and a GP in Oxford, added that the flu vaccine is safe for use in pregnancy.

A DoH spokesman said that plans to extend the influenza vaccinations programme to all pregnant women were currently under review.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

NEJM Online 2008

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