Between the antenatal appointments, scans and general lifestyle changes you have to make when pregnant, it can be hard to keep track of what else you’re meant to be doing in terms of prioritising your health.
When pregnant, you’re more susceptible to the effects of infections because the immune system is suppressed while you’re growing a baby.
This is why pregnant people are eligible for some free vaccines on the NHS, including the flu and Covid-19 vaccines. (You can also get a free whooping cough vaccine to help protect your baby from illness when they’re born.)
But uptake of these vaccines is lower than experts would like. Last year, for example, flu vaccine uptake among pregnant women was 35%, compared with 37.9 % in 2021.
In late 2021 and early 2022, health experts said the number of pregnant women receiving a Covid-19 vaccine was steadily increasing. Nearly six in 10 women who gave birth in January 2022 (59.5%) had received at least one dose of the vaccine, up from 53.7% in December 2021 and 48.7% in November 2021.
However, it’s unclear whether as many people will take up the offer of a Covid booster this winter.
The risk of Covid-19 and flu in pregnancy
Flu infection increases the chances of pregnant people and their babies needing intensive care, which is why a vaccine is offered.
The flu vaccine not only helps protect the parent from the worst of the illness, but can also protect baby in the womb and in the first few months of life.
This is important as the under-five age group has one of the highest hospitalisation rates for flu.
A spokesperson for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) told HuffPost UK the overall risk from Covid-19 disease for mother and new baby is low, but catching the illness in later pregnancy puts both mum and baby at increased risk of serious disease.
So they could end up needing hospital treatment or even intensive care support.
“Covid-19 vaccines give high levels of protection against severe illness,” said a spokesperson in an email, adding that even if you’ve already had a vaccine in the past few years, the autumn booster can increase protection over the winter.
According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, having two doses of the Covid vaccine and the booster makes you 88% less likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 than those who are unvaccinated.
What should you do if you want a vaccine?
If you do want a vaccine, it’s better to get them sooner rather than later, before flu season kicks off properly. We know that a new strain of Covid-19 is also currently circulating, which is why vaccines have been brought forward.
HuffPost UK understands that all pregnant people, at any stage of pregnancy, are eligible for a free flu and Covid-19 vaccine this autumn and winter.
If you want either a flu or Covid-19 vaccine – or both, which you can have at the same time FYI – it’s worth being proactive and booking one in if you haven’t been contacted by your midwife or GP by October.
For Covid-19, you can book your vaccine via the National Booking System. For flu, you can speak to your GP or midwife to book a vaccine. Some hospitals will also run walk-in flu vaccine clinics throughout winter.
If you’re pregnant, you’re eligible for the flu vaccine up until 31 March 2024.
Can you get the vaccine if you are ill?
With coughs and colds already circulating, you might find on the morning of your vaccine you’ve woken up with the sniffles – especially if you have young children who, let’s face it, are exceptionally germy this time of year.
The UKHSA advises that vaccination can still go ahead if you have a minor illness such as a cold, but may need to be delayed for illnesses that include fever.
If you’re unsure, call your GP ahead of your appointment to ask their advice.
Can vaccines harm your baby?
Some pregnant people might put off having the vaccine because they’re worried about the effects on their unborn child.
Data from across the world suggests both vaccines are beneficial to parent and baby.
As of November 2022, more than 1.3 million women worldwide had had Covid-19 vaccines in pregnancy.
Studies following nearly 350,000 pregnant women in the US and UK who were vaccinated in pregnancy have not raised any safety concerns.
According to UKHSA, research suggests these vaccines can help reduce the risk of:
- serious complications such as pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy
- parent or baby needing intensive care
- baby being stillborn or premature
- the chance of the expectant parent passing infection to baby.
Other ways to reduce the chance of getting sick
Ultimately, whether you get vaccinated or not is your decision to make.
If you don’t want either vaccine, for any reason, other ways to reduce your chances of getting sick this winter include: regular hand-washing, wearing a mask in busy public places (like on public transport) and keeping rooms well-ventilated when socialising or if someone else in your household is sick.