Pregnant women are eligible for both the free flu and Covid-19 booster vaccine this winter.
Pregnancy can be an exciting, yet vulnerable time for any woman, but Covid-19 fears and isolation during the height of the pandemic added an extra strain. It feels like it is all behind us now, but viruses like Covid-19 and flu can spread more easily in winter when we all mix more indoors, so healthcare experts are advising expectant mums to make sure they get their vaccines.
Over a million babies were born in the UK during the height of the pandemic. We talked to three mums about their decisions on vaccination and experiences of having a baby during the pandemic,
Shola Ilesanmi, mum of four, who had a healthy baby after receiving two Covid-19 vaccines and the flu jab, says, “I was double vaccinated against Covid and got the flu jab while pregnant. There was a lot of misinformation going round, so I took the time and did my own research, looking at reputable sources like the NHS website. Both flu and Covid immunisations are safe at any stage of pregnancy, and millions of pregnant women have safely had them worldwide.”
“You don’t want to be saddled with the guilt of getting sick while pregnant with something so preventable. Someone in my family refused the vaccine and caught Covid just after giving birth. She had to isolate away from her new baby, it’s not how you want to start out.”
NHS doctor and mum of two, Dr Olamide Savage, had her son in January 2020, just before the pandemic. Her husband was on the NHS frontline, so she was worried for his safety and therefore decided to isolate two months before lockdown started with her children.
“Complications from Covid and flu while pregnant can be very serious for mother and unborn baby – even fatal. I’ve seen pregnant women with Covid end up in intensive care for months. They deeply regret not getting the vaccine and missing out on bonding time with their new-borns,” says Dr Savage. “There are new variants of Covid all the time and the flu virus can change each year, so you need to stay ahead of viruses this autumn by making sure you have a booster for Covid-19 and a flu vaccine.”
Covid and flu can be unpredictable and can cause serious harm to mother and baby, Dr Savage says, “This is no time to be complacent.” Falling ill presents additional risks while pregnant. Vaccines are our best line of defence, which are freely available on the NHS and easy to get.”
Dr Savage says, “Children are prone to catching and spreading viruses like the flu, as they interact with so many kids. Many people think flu is harmless, but I see children fall seriously ill with it in my line of work throughout the winter.” That’s why she has also ensured her two-and-a-half-year-old son, got the nasal spray flu vaccine.
Recruitment manager Colette refused the vaccine over fears it might harm her unborn baby. Unfortunately, she became ill with Covid and experienced complications.
“I got Covid just before Christmas 2021 while I was eight months pregnant,” says Colette. “My oxygen levels dropped suddenly, and I was rushed to intensive care for 24 hours. Right up to the birth, I couldn’t breathe properly and would have painful coughing fits. Breathing was even harder during delivery. My baby had to go straight to neonatal intensive care, and I wasn’t allowed to see her due to the Covid restrictions.”
“Conspiracy theories were circulating in the Black community, and I was being double cautious because it was my first baby. I saw posts on Instagram linking the vaccine to infertility and baby deaths. They really affected me as I was feeling vulnerable. I now know these claims are untrue. I wish I’d spoken to a medical professional.”
A UK study found that pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid infections having received 2 or 3 vaccine doses, were less likely to have more severe disease or require intensive care admission than women who had not been vaccinated. However, uptake of vaccines is lowest in Black communities compared to other ethnic groups. Last winter almost 50% of Black African and Caribbean women who gave birth hadn’t had the Covid-19 vaccine.
Studies show that protection provided by Covid-19 vaccines decreases over time, even if you’ve had previous doses. So, it’s important you ‘top up’ your immunity this autumn. Pregnancy alters how the body handles infections such as flu, which is why you are advised to get the flu vaccine too. It’s safe to get both vaccines together. They do not contain live viruses and cannot infect the baby. Last season less than 30% of all Black pregnant women were vaccinated against flu (and in particular less than 15% of Black Caribbean pregnant women).
Find out how to book your vaccine appointments now at your GP surgery, local pharmacy or check with your maternity service. Visit nhs.uk/wintervaccinations