Less than half of pregnant women in Scotland took up the offer of the flu vaccine this winter, latest figures reveal.
Only 48% of pregnant women were immunised against major flu strains in 2013/14 compared to 53% in 2012/13, despite the vaccine being available to all mums-to-be at any point during their pregnancy from October to March.
And just two-thirds of pregnant women (65%) considered to be at risk took up the vaccine in Scotland last winter, compared to 68.7% the year before.
This decline contrasts to an overall upward trend in the flu immunisation programme, with figures showing the number of at-risk under 65s immunised over the winter rose from 56.1% in 2012/2013 to 57.5% in 2013/2014.
Vaccine uptake among those aged over 65 also remained steady, with 76.9% of people in this age group immunised against flu – above the World Health Organisation target of 75%.
Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said: “It goes without saying that all women want to do as much as they can to keep their baby safe and healthy during pregnancy, which is why it’s concerning that less than half of mums-to-be were immunised this winter.
“The flu vaccine is safe and effective, and offers protection to both mother and baby. The Royal College of Midwives, Scotland’s Chief Medical and Chief Nursing Officers have all stated that the flu vaccine will protect both mother and baby at what is an extremely vulnerable time. The flu vaccine cannot give you flu and all the experts agree on this. Not having the vaccine simply isn’t worth the risk, for you or your baby.”
Evidence shows pregnant women have a higher chance of developing complications if they get flu, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. The flu vaccine not only protects mothers from contracting flu but will also protect babies for several months following their birth, when they are at their most vulnerable.
The flu vaccine is free and is available to women at any time throughout their pregnancy between October to February. Pregnant women are advised to contact their local GP for more information about the vaccine.
Gillian Smith, Director for Scotland, Royal College of Midwives said: "It is really important that pregnant women do get their flu vaccine and that midwives encourage them to do that. Women should be aware of the importance of having the seasonal flu vaccine as soon as they become pregnant. If any pregnant woman is unsure about this it is crucial they speak to their midwife or doctor. Don't leave it too late."