No need to fear a flu jab when pregnant

Here’s a problem. All pregnant women are offered the flu jab but less than half take up the offer. Why? Are mums-to-be worried the jab may harm their ­unborn baby? Well, a new study should reassure the doubters.

The benefits of vaccination for ­pregnant women and their newborn infants are well documented.

Influenza itself has rare but dangerous complications, and ­pregnant women are several times more vulnerable than other people to those complications.

For instance, the risk of stillbirth is increased by getting flu. Vaccinating pregnant women against influenza reduces the chance of infection and its potential complications.

Despite these benefits, women may feel uneasy about the safety of ANY medicines during pregnancy. Plus, scepticism about the safety of vaccines is running high.

Mums-to-be naturally want to protect their unborn children and want information about any harm that an influenza jab during pregnancy could cause in any health context.

Proving “no harm”, however, is ­virtually impossible. But vaccine studies consistently show no increase in short-term side effects in pregnancy or stillbirth with vaccination.

What about the long-term effects on children’s health following a jab during pregnancy? To examine that we need studies linking mums’ pregnancy and children’s health records. If studies are done well they can look at a range of health outcomes over years of follow-up. And the news is good.

The authors of a new study combined Canadian data on antenatal care for 100,000 pregnant women during the influenza outbreak in 2009-10, with their children’s health records up to five years of age. Infections, asthma, cancer, chronic complex diseases, hospital admissions, and mortality were included.

Only one outcome, childhood asthma, increased with vaccination, and this effect was very small.

The net result is a solid vote of ­confidence in flu jabs in ­pregnancy, with little evidence of harm.

No raised risk was found for cancer, infections, developmental problems or chronic diseases in the ­children of vaccinated mothers. This is consistent with the results of other large studies.

The message is clear: flu jabs during pregnancy are, by all available evidence, safe for mums and babies.

It falls to doctors to point out that vaccination of pregnant women averts a small but serious risk of death and illness for the mother and a chance of death of the unborn baby.

As the BMJ says, a fear of harm to the child is ungrounded. In this era of “anti-vaxx” anxiety, it’s a doctor’s duty to be clear: vaccination of pregnant women saves lives.