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Swine flu: should I have the jab as I’m pregnant?

Should all pregnant women have the swine flu vaccine and are there any safety worries?

Posted: 6 January 2010
by Celia Morgan

While many mums-to-be are keen to avoid having injections and medicines while pregnant, this decision is a particularly tricky one, as six pregnant women have died in the UK from swine flu. We answer your questions…

Is the swine flu vaccine safe for pregnant women and their unborn babies?

The Department of Health has declared the vaccine safe for expectant mums and says that it could even give your baby some protection against the disease. "We recognise that a few recent media stories have caused anxiety and apprehension for some pregnant women about receiving the swine flu vaccine," says the Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health, Professor David Salisbury. "But both the vaccines being used in the UK have been licensed for use in pregnant women. Licensed vaccines, including influenza vaccines, are held to a very high standard of safety and the vaccines would not be licensed if they were thought to be unsafe."

Why are pregnant women being encouraged to have the vaccine?

Pregnant women are one of the priority groups being encouraged to have the swine flu vaccination. During pregnancy the immune system is naturally suppressed which makes it more likely for mums-to-be to catch swine flu. It also means that there is greater risk of developing complications and pregnant women are five times more likely to need hospital treatment.

So why are mums worried about the vaccine's safety?

Many mums-to-be are concerned that the swine flu vaccine has not been adequately tested. A US survey found that although 43% of pregnant women and mums of children under 2 plan to get the seasonal flu jab this year, only 27% are planning to have the swine flu vaccine.

Studies in the UK have not had long-term follow-up. "There is therefore no guarantee that the vaccine is safe," Dr Ann Robinson told The Guardian. "All one can say is that there is a very high probability that you will be at less risk from the vaccine than the disease, especially if your immune system is compromised."

Although the swine flu vaccine hasn't specifically been tested on pregnant women, many women who took part in trials for other flu vaccines with similar ingredients fell pregnant shortly after having the vaccine or were given the vaccine before they knew they were pregnant. From these women, there is no evidence that the vaccine's ingredients are a risk to the mum or her baby.

There have also been some concerns over the use of the mercury containing preservative thiomersal, which is found in the swine flu vaccine offered in the UK. Exposure to mercury in the womb has been linked to learning disabilities and hyperactivity. However, there is no firm evidence that thiomersal is harmful to mum or baby. A recent study found no link between neuropsychological functioning at the age of 7 to 10 years and exposure to mercury in the womb or during the first seven months of life. Rates of autism in the US also continued to rise even after thiomersal was removed from childhood vaccines.

If I’ve already had swine flu, do I still need the vaccine?

"If you've already had swine flu, then it might not be necessary to have the vaccination," says Sue Macdonald, Education & Research Manager at the Royal College of Midwives. "However, because it's impossible to say who has definitely had swine flu, the vaccine will be offered to all pregnant women." It's perfectly safe to receive the vaccine if you have already had swine flu.

Can I wait and see if I get swine flu and get antiviral treatment then?

"The guidance is that it is better to have the flu vaccination," says Sue. "This would appear on balance to be a better alternative than taking the anitviral medication once you have the infection. Antivirals have side effects of their own and only shorten the illness by about a day."

Are there any side-effects of the swine flu vaccine?

"Some reactions such as soreness over the injection site, tiredness, fever and headache have been reported, but these diminish within a couple of days," explains Sue. "The vaccine does not cause flu itself, as it uses an inactive virus."

Sue also warns that if you have previously suffered a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine, you should not have the swine flu vaccine. And, if you have an egg allergy, some brands of swine flu vaccine use eggs in their manufacture so make sure you tell your doctor and you'll be given an alternative vaccine.

Should I feel guilty if I don't get the vaccine?

"All expectant mums want the best for their baby and this involves weighing up the balance of benefit and risk," says Professor Salisbury. "We have no reason to believe there is a risk of harm from giving the swine flu vaccines in pregnancy, but we can see clear evidence of potential harm for both the mother and baby from contracting swine flu in pregnancy. Anyone who is worried about making this choice can talk it through with their GP."

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Swine flu, vaccination, jab, safety, pregnancy

Discuss this story

what are peoples thoughts on having babies and toddlers vaccinated against swine flu? Does anyone have any information about research done on the pros and cons of this?

Posted: 20/01/2010 at 09:23

Hi Sands, we have decided to not give our little girl the flu jab when if it ever rolled out nationally at the moment it just seems to be swine lu hot spots, our resoning is this;

she has been breastfed and has a good immune system as a result, she rarely gets colds and if she does its for no more than a day.

Swine flu is just a flu, yes in cases where there are other health complications it is very dangerous, asthma etc but so is regular flu!

She isn't at a nursery so she is not exposed to lots of different children

the vaccine just isn't tested enough for me to feel happy about it, yes it is safe now but the thought it could cause health complications down the line is terrifing. at first I wasn't worried it is based on the regular flu jab so that is already thoroughly tested but, Germany is at least one country I know of that isn't giving pregnant women and babies the flu jab because of this reason (told to me by my german friend!)

The figures that we are given daily on the number of under 5s with swine flu in hospital includes these groups- children who were already in hospital for another issue and caught it there! and if a child is in for 2 nights they are counted twice 3 nighs 3 times etc so adding all of those up gives an unrealistic number. the number of healthy children with a good diet and general health is most likley a lot lower.

We have spoken to our family doctor he has 2 children and is not giving them the jab so big massive lines to read between there lol!!

the NHS no longer actually confirm swine flu with a laboratory test, only in extreame cases, so the majority of cases may not even be swine flu, some colds and viruses can be pretty bad, yet most dr's are happy to diagnose it as swine flu and so its another case to add to the statistic heap!!

Flu being a virus mutates, thats why we have to have flu jabs every year, so next year or when the flu is no longer responsive to tamilflu will all under 5's have to have another jab? is thats the case Freya could end up having 3 or 4 each with side effects mostly unknown.

the vaccine contains mercury! I don't really need to ellaborate lol mercury= bad!!

I can get the links to some medical research papers if you'd like some more info but it is very facts and figures based and a bit repetitive so not exactly light reading!! lol

it is a very personal choice and not something we have taken lightly but we give her vitamen supplements for babies and she has a good balanced diet with lots of supposed super foods in to keep germs at bay, other than this and good hygine there isn't anything else we could do. my friends little boy and her both have had suspected swine flu, she had tamilflu and he was too young for that ut had calpol to keep his temperature down and it was no worse than any bad flu.

hope this helps, it is just our opinion as a family and most of my friends feel the same about their children.

take care Vicky and Freya 10 months


Posted: 20/01/2010 at 22:20

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