Exclusive: Mums-to-be face risks after skipping flu jabs

Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women will be at risk of lethal complications in the event of a flu outbreak, official figures show.

Just 26.4% of pregnant women in England have received the flu vaccine, a drop of around 30% from this time last year, Health Protection Agency data reveal.

HPA data show how flu vaccine uptake among pregnant women this winter (dark red) tracks below uptake in 2010/11 (light red), and far below current and historical uptake among over-65s (blues) and other at-risk groups (greens).

RCGP health protection lead Dr Maureen Baker said the UK could see a flu outbreak within the next few weeks, even though a spike in flu activity has yet to emerge this winter.

Poor vaccine uptake means the NHS in England is unlikely to hit a target set last year by CMO Dame Sally Davies, who had called on the NHS to vaccinate 60% of pregnant women this winter.

For 2013/14, the DH has a target of vaccinating three-quarters of all at-risk patients, including pregnant women and the elderly, in line with WHO targets.

England has the lowest rate of vaccination among pregnant women in Britain. In Scotland, 37.6% have had the jab and 31.3% have in Wales. No figures are available for Northern Ireland.

Dr Baker said the UK needs to overcome an ingrained objection to vaccination. 'There's obviously a huge entrenched resistance to having flu vaccine when pregnant,' she said.

Pregnant women are 'reluctant' to take anything that they think may affect their unborn babies, she said.

Dr Baker said was 'disappointed but not surprised' that uptake remains low. 'More work needs to be done to understand the resistance in pregnant women,' she said.

Regarding the need to improve vaccine uptake, she said: 'GPs should take every opportunity to flag it up.'

Uptake among healthcare workers has improved this year, reaching 43% so far. At the same point last winter just 26.1% were vaccinated.

Vaccination of other at-risk groups has also risen, with 73.9% of elderly people and 51.4% of people under 65 in at-risk groups being vaccinated.

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