Pregnancy and the flu jab

If you get the flu while you’re hāpu (pregnant), it can put your life, and your baby’s life, at risk. Your best defence is to get a free flu jab. 

Last updated: 10 May 2022

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Why it’s important to get the flu jab if you’re pregnant 

As people in Aotearoa emerge from their bubbles, there’s a much bigger chance of catching the flu. Pandemic measures like mask wearing and hand hygiene mean we've had very little influenza circulating in New Zealand for the past two years, so community immunity is lower than usual. And, with international borders opening, we’ll see new strains of flu spreading in our communities.

It’s more important than ever to protect yourself and your baby from the flu by getting your yearly flu jab as soon as you can. 
Being hāpu (pregnant) and getting the flu means you’re: 

  • at increased risk of pneumonia 
  • nearly five times more likely to be admitted to hospital with flu compared to a non-pregnant woman. 

Flu increases the risk of pregnancy complications, including: 

  • premature birth    
  • low birthweight   
  • miscarriage/stillbirth   
  • birth defects. 

Protect your baby 

Antibodies your body makes from the flu jab are shared with your pēpi (baby), so when they’re born, they have some protection against the flu for the first few months of their life.  

Newborns and young infants are more likely to end up in hospital with flu than older children, so the protection they receive from you in the womb could make all the difference.  

Hear from experts

The flu vaccine is free if you're pregnant and the reason that we encourage wāhine who are pregnant to get their flu vaccine is because when you're pregnant your body changes.

So our immune system lowers to allow the baby to grow inside us.

Also as baby grows our lungs get squashed up and so if you've ever had a cold or a flu when you're pregnant it's harder to breathe.

All these factors mean that when you are pregnant if you get the flu you can become more unwell.

Getting the flu vaccine while you're pregnant will pass some of your immunity onto baby and give them protection from the flu when they're little.

I really like to encourage pregnant women to get the flu vaccine early so that as we go into winter there's less chance of you getting sick from the flu.

Dr Lily Fraser explains why it's important to be immunised against the flu when pregnant.

My name is Elani Mafi, I am Tongan and I’m a self-employed midwife in the South Auckland area, and the counties.

When you're pregnant, you're at risk of getting the flu, getting COVID-19.

So that’s one of the main topics we discuss with the woman from the beginning of their pregnancy, at booking.

As a midwife I would say to my women 'hey, have your flu vaccination because it’s really important for your and your baby and it is free.'

Because I’m Tongan, for my Tongan women I speak to them in my language and encourage them.

Usually when we talk to the women and they think, ah yeah, I didn’t have it with my other children, we will give them time.

We will give them time and we will give them websites and pamphlets to look at and then usually when they come back for the second time they will say, ‘yes we will have it Lani.’

 

Midwife Elani Mafi talks about encouraging pregant people to get the flu vaccine.


Breastfeeding 

Being vaccinated while breastfeeding may offer some protection against flu but babies will have more protection if their mother is immunised during pregnancy. Flu jabs are also free if you’re pregnant.  


Safety 

The flu jab has been used by pregnant women for many years and has an excellent safety rating.  

There’s no increased risk of side effects from the flu vaccine if you’re pregnant or for your unborn baby.  

Side effects and reactions to the flu jab


Getting the flu jab 

Flu jabs are free if you’re pregnant and it protects both you and your pēpi – before and after birth.   

The flu vaccine can be given at any time during pregnancy. Get the flu jab before the start of winter for best protection. 

Your flu vaccine doesn’t cross the placenta into your pēpi. The vaccine helps your own immune system to make protective proteins (antibodies) that can fight off the virus.

You can’t get the flu from the vaccine. 

Although having the vaccination doesn’t guarantee you won’t catch the flu, it will give you and your baby more protection if you do catch it.  

You can get your free flu jab from your GP or healthcare provider. Many pharmacies also offer the free flu vaccine. 

Pharmacies offering flu jabs

Getting a COVID-19 vaccination at the same time as the free flu jab 

You can have a COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time as your free flu vaccine. There’s no need to leave a gap between these vaccines.  

If you haven’t already had it, it’s a good idea to ask if you can get your COVID-19 vaccine or booster when you get your flu jab. Being up-to-date with all your vaccinations gives your the best possible protection for you and your baby.

You will need to check the vaccination site is able to administer both before you arrive.

Whooping cough vaccines

Whooping cough is another vaccine-preventable respiratory illness likely to return as the borders open. 

If you’re in your second or third trimester (when the whooping cough vaccine [Tdap] is recommended and free), this can be given with the flu vaccine at the same visit.

Both immunisations are free if you’re pregnant. 
 

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