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• All pregnant women could get the flu jab from next year to help protect their unborn babies.
Government advisers recommended in October 2006 that all pregnant women be given the flu jab. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) told ministers that mothers-to-be should get the vaccine to protect themselves and their babies.

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They said evidence suggested that pregnant women were at increased risk of illness and death from seasonal flu, especially in the later stages of pregnancy.

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But that JCVI recommendation was stalled after the Government heard there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate the jabs would be cost-effective for the NHS. The JCVI was asked to re-examine the data and take into account any new studies. The emergence of new research could now push ministers into adopting a plan to vaccinate all pregnant women in England.

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Dr Douglas Fleming, a member of the JCVI’s influenza subgroup, told GP newspaper it was “very likely” that pregnant women would be vaccinated from next year. Latest research from the US, published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, found that vaccinating mothers could offer protection to newborns.

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Rates of influenza among infants born to mothers who were given a flu jab were reduced by 63%, the study found. The number of fever-linked respiratory illnesses fell by 29% in vaccinated infants and 36% in vaccinated mothers.

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Scientists in the US randomly assigned 340 mothers-to-be either to receive the flu jab Fluarix or the pneumonia vaccine Pneumovax in the last three months of pregnancy. Mothers and infants were observed from August 2004 through December 2005. The study, conducted in Bangladesh, suggested that newborn infants could be safeguarded against flu by vaccinating their mothers when they were pregnant.

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Dr Fleming told GP newspaper the study would enable the JCVI to go back to ministers. He said: “This is just the sort of research that we need to influence Department of Health policy. Previously, there had not been a detailed level of evidence to support vaccinating pregnant women. It is very likely that pregnant women will now be vaccinated from next year.”

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Currently, the vaccination programme recommends flu jabs for patients aged 65 and over and those in at-risk groups such as those with diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic heart disease.

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A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Influenza vaccine is currently recommended for pregnant women who are in one of the clinical risk groups recommended flu vaccine. JCVI is keeping the issue of flu vaccination and pregnant women under review.”

Source: channel4.com

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