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31 October 2011, 05:00
Pregnant women across the Thames Valley are being warned of the risks of not getting the flu jab.
The region's maternity lead has said she is concerned that pregnant women across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire are not protecting themselves and their babies from the dangerous health effects of flu.
Just 39% of expectant mothers had the jab last year, leaving almost 17,000 local women and their unborn babies defenceless against the virus.
Last year there were nine reported deaths of pregnant women with flu in England.
The free jab was offered to pregnant women last year for the first time after they were found to be especially vulnerable to life-threatening complications from the swine flu virus.
This year's vaccine protects against both the seasonal and swine flu viruses which are in circulation.
Dr Suzanne Tyler, Associate Director of Maternity and Newborn, at South Central Strategic Health Authority, warns:
"It's worrying that not all mums-to-be are aware that if they catch the flu when pregnant they are more likely to suffer from serious complications such as pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.
"If you're pregnant and already have a health condition such as asthma, you're at an even greater risk of serious illness and up to 11 times more likely to die from flu than people with no existing health conditions.
"During pregnancy, your immune system is weakened to accommodate your growing baby. Also as the womb increases in size, there is less space for your lungs so you may not be able to breathe as deeply as before. This increases the risk of lung infections that can follow flu.
"Myths persist about the safety of the vaccine, which I'm sure has deterred some people from protecting themselves, but evidence suggests that the vaccine for flu is very safe for pregnant women and there is no evidence of this vaccine doing any harm at all during pregnancy.
"The vaccine does not contain a live flu virus, so it will not give you flu. The vaccine will actually give your unborn baby some protection against flu during the first six months of life.
"The jab can be given at any stage of pregnancy. The vaccine can take up to two weeks to take effect and the sooner you have the jab the sooner you and your baby will be protected.
"The flu jab is free to pregnant women and the best protection against flu, alongside good hand hygiene to reduce the spread of germs."
Others 'at risk' include people with:
If you are pregnant or have any of the above conditions contact your local GP surgery to book an appointment.