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GPs to include all pregnant women in seasonal flu campaign

By Lilian Anekwe

The Department of Health has announced GPs should include pregnant women for the first time in this year's seasonal flu vaccination campaign.

Ministers announced that GPs should invite all pregnant women to receive this year's seasonal flu jab, which contains the H1N1 swine flu strain as one of three component influenza strains.

Data from the southern hemisphere shows the swine flu strain will continue to circulate this winter, putting pregnant women at an increased risk of severe disease and flu-related hospital admissions.

The decision to include pregnant women in this year's campaign, which was recommended to ministers by the DH advisors on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, will stand for the 2010/11 campaign only – but the JCVI has been asked to decide whether to routinely include all pregnant women from the 2011/12 campaign onwards.

Professor David Salisbury, the DH's director of immunisation said: ‘This represents a big shift in thinking for us. The recommendation as it stands is for this year only but the JCVI will consider the routine vaccination of pregnant women. This has gone back and forth a number of times and we need a definitive recommendation from the JCVI.'

Professor Salisbury encouraged GPs to allay safety fears in pregnant women in order to make sure uptake is high, and hit back at the ‘prejudice' against swine flu vaccine safety by insisting the seasonal flu vaccine has been rigorously tested and does not contain the adjuvant which prompted safety fears in the swine flu vaccine.

‘Refusing the vaccine is, frankly, foolhardy. To ignore the vaccine because of a prejudice against the swine flu vaccine is putting yourself at risk. That's important to say, even if it's uncomfortable, as that attitude of refusing the vaccine ignores the risks.

‘The reason the JCVI recommended we keep pregnant women in [the at-risk groups] was because of the risks that emerged during the H1N1 pandemic, when pregnant women were disproportionately at risk of hospitalisations and complications.

‘Let's deal with this openly now, rather than give it any credibility. I'm not aware of any reason why pregnant women should not be vaccinated, or any attributable adverse events in Europe reported in women who had the swine flu vaccine. It is in the best interest of pregnant women to be vaccinated,' he said.

Healthy children under five were also included in the swine flu vaccination campaign, but a combined uptake to around 20% in this group, and seroepidemiological data that showed many children were infected sub-clinically, has led ministers to believe that the proportion of children who have not already been exposed to the H1N1 strain is relatively small.

All pregnant women should be offered the seasonal flu jab