Recently I published an article in Women and Birth on maternal influenza vaccination. We looked at the number of women who are getting the benefits of influenza vaccination every year. We interviewed 2,000 new mothers and asked if they had received an influenza vaccine. We also asked them why they did or why they didn’t. The results showed that more women than ever are getting a flu vaccine while pregnant. In 2014, 40% of women received a flu vaccine during pregnancy, double the number in 2012. But a large number of women are still going unvaccinated. Why?
Given women must avoid certain things during pregnancy, they may be a bit wary of vaccination. We found that one-third of unvaccinated women had concerns about vaccine safety. Yet, this was not the main reason why women did not get a flu vaccine. Surprisingly, the top reason why women were not vaccinated was lack of awareness. Half of pregnant women were unvaccinated because a healthcare provider never recommended it. If a provider had recommended it, 75% of women would have been vaccinated. Two-thirds of women said a provider recommended the flu vaccine to them. This shows if healthcare providers recommended vaccination to all pregnant patients, we would see bigger improvement.
More than 20,000 pregnant women in Western Australia remain unvaccinated every year. This is disappointing, since my work (and the work of others) has shown big benefits of maternal vaccination. We were encouraged to see that more than 90% of pregnant women chose to be vaccinated to protect their baby. This shows that vaccinated are aware of these benefits. But how do we get this across to the unvaccinated? In the article, we call for better patient-provider communication around vaccination during pregnancy. Yet, I suspect mothers listen to their community as often as they listen to their providers. The amazing success of the Light for Riley Foundation is a great example of this. Light for Riley is a charity set up by Catherine and Greg Hughes after their son died of whooping cough. Catherine Hughes’s story has encouraged thousands of mothers in Australia to get the whooping cough vaccine. Their work shows how we could all be playing a bigger part in protecting mothers and babies.