Flu is a highly infectious disease and can lead to serious health complications for anyone who gets it. However, there are also certain groups of people who are at particular risk from flu and as a result, are offered a free flu vaccination on the NHS.
The flu vaccination is completely free for pregnant women, children aged 2 and 3 years old, those with underlying health conditions and those aged 65 and over. The vaccination is the best form of protection we have against the unpredictable virus that is flu and it's free for these people because they need it.
Here’s why you should get a free flu vaccination if you’re pregnant:
There is strong evidence to suggest that pregnant women have a much higher risk of serious illness as a result of flu, compared to the rest of the general population - this is because pregnancy naturally weakens the body's immune system.
As a result, getting the flu when pregnant can cause serious complications for mother and baby. This means you may be less able to fight off infections, increasing the risk of becoming ill further as a result of catching the flu.
One of the most common complications of flu is bronchitis, a chest infection that can become serious and develop into pneumonia. Other risks of complications include septic shock (a severe and life-threatening infection of the whole body), meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
If you have flu while you're pregnant, it could mean your baby is at risk from premature birth, low birthweight and can even lead to fatal complications.
However if you get the flu vaccination during your pregnancy, flu antibodies are transferred from mother to baby through the placenta. This gives the baby some protection against flu during the first few months of their life.
If you're worried that you'll get the flu by getting vaccinated, the flu vaccination is inactivated – meaning you cannot catch the flu via vaccination.
If you are eligible for a free flu vaccination
If you are eligible for a free flu vaccination this winter, all you need to do is contact your GP practice, local pharmacist or your midwife (if you're pregnant).
Don't delay in arranging yours if you are eligible - the flu can strike at any time over the winter months. Remember, it’s free because you need it.