UKHSA urges pregnant women to protect themselves and their baby this winter with flu and COVID vaccines
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is strongly encouraging all pregnant women, particularly women from Black British Caribbean and Black British African communities, to book their flu and COVID-19 vaccines to protect themselves and their babies against the heightened risks of these infections during pregnancy.
Pregnancy changes how the body responds to infections like flu and COVID-19 and puts them, and their babies, at higher risk of complications requiring hospitalization than non-pregnant women. The flu and COVID-19 vaccines are the best defence we have against serious infections. Vaccinated women have a lower risk of severe disease requiring hospital treatment and it reduces the risk to their unborn child of stillbirth and prematurity.
All vaccines go through a regulatory approval process to ensure they meet strict safety and effectiveness checks. Millions of women in England have had the flu vaccine during pregnancy since this was introduced in 2011. Additionally, over 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in pregnancy, with more than 400,000 women receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine before conceiving and going on to give birth.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Director of Immunisation at UKHSA:
“Taking up both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines provides the best protection for both pregnant women and their baby, reducing the risk of severe complications, intensive care needs, stillbirth, and prematurity.
“The vaccines also provide some level of protection to your newborn in the first few months of life, which is particularly important for flu as babies under 6 months old are at high risk of severe disease.
“The flu & COVID-19 vaccines have a good safety record for expectant mothers at every stage of pregnancy. It’s natural to have questions about vaccines during pregnancy, so please reach out to a healthcare professional to get the facts about these vaccinations.”
Dr Ranee Thakar, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:
“We are urging all pregnant women to get their free COVID-19 and flu vaccines, to give themselves and their babies the best protection this winter. Both vaccines are safe and can be given at any stage in pregnancy.
“The low vaccine uptake last winter was really concerning, as we know pregnant women are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and flu infection and both viruses can cause severe illness in pregnancy.
“Maternity and wider NHS staff are well-trusted by the public, so we encourage all health professionals to recommend and discuss vaccination with pregnant women at every available opportunity.”
Birte Harlev-Lam OBE Executive Director, Midwife said:
“The COVID-19 and flu vaccines are safe for pregnant women and having them is the best protection against these potentially dangerous infections.
“I really encourage you to consider having the vaccines to protect yourself, your baby, and your family. If you have any questions about either vaccine please speak to your midwife, obstetrician, or GP so you can get all the facts and make the right decision for you.”
Three reasons to get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy:
- Reduce the chance of you becoming seriously unwell
- Pregnancy is tough enough without adding in a serious illness on top. The changes in your immune system in pregnancy and its effects on breathing means you are more likely to become seriously ill with respiratory illnesses like flu or COVID-19, compared to someone who isn’t pregnant. The vaccines are the best defense against serious illness and hospitalisation.
- Reduce the chance of complications for your unborn child – including pre-term birth
- The vaccines also help protect you during pregnancy and reduce the chance of premature birth, low birth weight, and of you getting infected and passing it to your newborn baby.
- The vaccines will protect your baby for a few months after they are born – keeping them healthy through winter
Flu can also be very serious in young babies who are at particularly high risk of severe disease needing hospital treatment. The flu vaccines pass on protection to your baby so when they are born, they have the best chance of staying healthy.
Both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time. To ensure the highest level of protection, it is important to receive both vaccines in the autumn to be protected through winter. This means you are protected when infections circulate more widely and that your baby is protected against flu in their first few months of life. Don’t worry if you find out that you’re pregnant later on – you can have the flu vaccine right up until 31 March 2024.
You can book your COVID-19 and flu vaccination appointment online, by downloading the NHS app or by calling 119 if you can’t get online. You can also book your flu vaccine by finding a local pharmacy or through your GP practice and some maternity services.
With robust UK and global studies supporting the safety and advantages of both COVID-19 and flu vaccines for women and their babies at any stage of pregnancy, pregnant women should not delay. Your health and your baby’s health are important.
Notes to editors
‘Associations between SARS-CoV-2 infection and, separately, COVID-19 vaccination just before
or during pregnancy and the risk of adverse neonatal and maternal outcomes among women in Scotland with a singleton pregnancy ending at ≥20 weeks gestation’ Neonatal and maternal outcomes following SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 vaccination: a population-based matched cohort study (nih.gov) found that:
1. Infection was associated with an increased risk of:
- preterm birth
- very preterm birth
- Maternal admission to critical care or death
- Venous thromboembolism
2. Vaccination was not associated with increased risk of any adverse outcome studied.
- Last season (2022 to 2023) only 13% of Black British Caribbean pregnant women and 27% of Black British African pregnant women received the flu vaccine, compared to 39.6% of pregnant white women.
- Last year only 3.5% of black pregnant women received the COVID-19 autumn booster, compared to 15.6% of white pregnant women.
- How to book the vaccines · For COVID-19: Pregnant women can book their COVID-19 vaccine via the National Booking System, by downloading the NHS App, or by calling 119 for free if they can’t get online.
- For flu: Pregnant women can speak to their GP or practice nurse, or alternatively a local pharmacist, via the NHS National Booking System https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/book-flu-vaccination/ to book a flu vaccination. The vaccine may also be available through maternity services.
Flu vaccine The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS to adults who:
- are 65 and over (including those who will be 65 by 31 March 2024)
- have certain long-term health conditions
- are pregnant
- are in long-stay residential care
- receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
- live with someone who is more likely to get a severe infection due to a weakened immune system, such as someone living with HIV, someone who has had a transplant, or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis
Autumn COVID-19 booster The following people are eligible for an autumn Covid booster:
- Residents in care homes for older adults
- All adults aged 65 years and over
- People aged 6 months to 64 years in a clinical risk group, as defined in tables 3 and 4 of the Covid-19 chapter of the UKHSA Green Book on Immunisation
- frontline health and social care workers.
- People aged 12 to 64 years who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression, as defined in the UKHSA Green Book · People aged 16 to 64 years who are carers, as defined in the UKHSA Green Book, and staff working in care homes for older adults
Vaccine uptake figures for 2022 to 2023 season:
‘Seasonal influenza vaccine uptake in GP patients in England: winter season 2022 to 2023’ More information at:
- · Uptake in pregnant women was 35.0% (compared with 37.9% in 2021 to 2022)