Injection of knowledge needed

8th November 2012

If one positive thing came from the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, it’s that pregnant women are now offered the seasonal flu jab as part of the Department of Health’s annual flu vaccination programme.

But, as was reported in Issue 5 :: 2012 of Midwives, take-up among this vulnerable group of the population is ridiculously low. Less than 30% of pregnant women are getting the flu jab, which falls far short of the national expected target of 75%.

So why is the rate so low? I know that the vaccine is not compulsory and, ultimately, women have the right to refuse it, but are women being given enough information about the jab to make an informed choice about it?

It is a dilemma a friend of mine is facing at the moment. She’s just announced that she’s expecting her first child. When she went to her booking appointment a few weeks ago, she asked the midwife about the flu vaccine, as she wanted to know whether it is safe to have it. The midwife’s answer was, simply: ‘I don’t know.’

Now my friend works for the NHS herself, and is currently working on a ward where she comes into contact with very sick patients every day. Therefore, her chance of getting flu, pregnant or not, is much greater than many other members of the public.

A letter, sent out by the Chief Medical Officer, Director of Nursing and Chief Pharmaceutical Officer to health professionals earlier this year stressed the need to increase flu vaccination rates among three key groups: those aged over 65, pregnant women and healthcare workers who have direct contact with patients. As my friend falls into two out of three of those categories, surely the midwife should have been recommending that she get the jab as soon as she possibly could.

Fortunately, the friend was level-headed enough to do her research, and has sought out official Department of Health guidance about the flu vaccination to help her make informed choice about whether to have it or not.  But there must be countless other women who are in a similar position who wouldn’t seek out further advice if the answers aren’t supplied by their midwife. 

Unless all midwives around the UK are in a position to help women make an informed choice about the vaccination, how will take-up rates ever improve?