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Ministerial message to support flu vaccination uptake

The Public Health Minister Maureen Watt has re-issued the call for those eligible to get their flu vaccination, following recent reports of current strains of the flu virus resulting in hospitalisations with severe infection including among pregnant women.

Flu immunisation uptake in pregnant women, including those with other risk factors, up to week 2 in 2016 was lower than the same week in previous seasons (i.e. 2015 and 2014). Statistics show that over the last five years around 500 deaths have occurred each winter which can be attributable, or related to, flu. The flu vaccine continues to offer the best defence against the virus and is free to those who are eligible, including pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, those aged 65 and over, and unpaid carers.

The seasonal flu vaccination is being administered by GP practices until the end of March 2016 as part of a national programme which will see over two million people offered the vaccination this winter.

It is not too late for the Maternal and Early Years Network to help make a difference by supporting the communication of this message to help improve uptake. You can do this in many ways including:

  • sharing the message with the target audience for the flu vaccination, including pregnant women
  • sharing the message with parents, carers and extended families you work with (more generally)
  • sharing this e-alert and information on the Maternal and Early Years website with colleagues, contacts and networks
  • sharing with your organisation’s external communications colleague(s) for further dissemination and public communications
  • sharing as relevant with your employer, HR department and internal communications teams

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said:

“Flu can be a very serious illness, and over the last few weeks, a significant number of people have been admitted to hospitals in Scotland with severe life threatening complications of flu infection.  

“Our message to those who are eligible and haven’t yet had their flu vaccination is not to be complacent. 

“We know viruses are circulating and you’re at greater risk of experiencing complications if you catch the flu virus, so don’t leave it to chance.  Your GP practice will administer the vaccine and it takes around 14 days to work.

“The flu vaccine offered this season is a good match for the circulating strains being detected and is expected to provide good levels of protection. Even if you were immunised last winter, it’s important to receive the vaccine again as viruses change each season.   

“Our aim is to ensure communities are protected to stop the spread of flu this winter, so if you’re eligible, I’d urge you not to delay.  Make an appointment with your GP practice today.”

Director of the Royal College of Midwives Scotland, Gillian Smith said:

“It has now become critical we stress to pregnant women that flu is a really serious illness – it is not just a bad cold.  It can hit hard and fast and have a serious impact on those expecting a baby. You could experience premature labour, stillbirth or a miscarriage but also you could become seriously ill yourself so we are encouraging all pregnant ladies to get the vaccination.

“If you’ve been pregnant before, remember that a healthy and flu-free pregnancy last time is no guarantee that you won’t catch flu this time.  To make sure you get the maximum protection against the strains of flu circulating, you need to get vaccinated again.

“The flu vaccine is free to all expectant mothers in Scotland, is safe to have at any time during pregnancy, and it only takes a few minutes. Getting immunised against flu offers the best protection against the virus. It takes about 10 days to be protected after getting the vaccine, so pregnant women are advised to get out there and get the vaccination as soon as possible.

“Over the last ten years, the flu vaccine has generally been a good match for the circulating strains of flu, and being vaccinated is the best way to help protect yourself and your baby against a virus which can cause serious illness.  Even when the vaccine may not be as well matched to the circulating flu viruses, if you do develop flu, these symptoms may be less severe and you may be less likely to develop complications requiring you to be admitted to hospital. So don’t waste time…get it today.”

For further information about the vaccine, contact NHS Inform on 0800 22 44 88 or visit the Immunisation Scotland website