Pregnant women are being urged to have a flu jab and the whooping cough vaccine to protect themselves and their babies.

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Q and A

Q: Why should pregnant women have the flu vaccine?

A: There is good evidence that pregnant women have an increased risk of developing complications if they get flu, particularly from the H1N1 strain (swine flu). Complications can include the baby being born prematurely or with a low birthweight, stillbirth or death in the first week of life, and for the mother bronchitis leading to pneumonia, ear infections, septic shock, meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Q: How do I get the flu vaccine?

A: Contact your midwife or GP to find out where you can get the flu vaccine. It’s a good idea to get vaccinated as soon as possible after the vaccine becomes available in September.

Q: Why should pregnant women have the whooping cough vaccine?

A: Getting vaccinated while you’re pregnant may help to protect your baby from developing whooping cough in his or her first few weeks of life. The immunity you get from the vaccine will pass to your baby through the placenta. Babies are not vaccinated against whooping cough until they are two months old.

Q: Can I have the whooping cough vaccine at the same time as the flu jab?

A: Yes, you can have the whooping cough vaccine when you get the flu vaccine, but do not delay your flu jab so that you can have both at the same time.

Last year in Norfolk and Waveney, just 19.4pc of pregnant women had the seasonal flu vaccine, despite health bosses highlighting the dangers of flu for them and their unborn child, and how the vaccine can also help to protect their baby in the first couple of months of his or her life.

There is a large outbreak of whooping cough in the UK at the moment, with three times more cases than usual. So far this year one child has died in Norfolk and Waveney from the infection –which can lead to pneumonia and a range of complications in young babies. – and 10 babies across the country have died from whooping cough so far this year.

Jenny Harries, Norfolk’s director of public health, said she understood women’s concerns surrounding vaccines, which were heightened by research linking the MMR jab to autism which has since been discredited and the doctor involved found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

She said: “The first thing to do is acknowledge their concerns. I have had four children of my own and I think women are quite right to be cautious about what they do take, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy. But the benefits of the vaccines are really important and there is no evidence of any harm to mother or baby.”

The whooping cough vaccine is important for pregnant women, mainly because they can pass on their immunity to their babies, who will be most at risk in the first couple of months of their life before they are able to have the vaccine themselves.

Cases of whooping cough were prevalent in the 1950s, when it caused hundreds of deaths a year.

A vaccine was introduced and was extremely successful, but for reasons still being investigated, cases have started to rise again.

In Norfolk and Waveney there was one confirmed case in 2010, and 18 in 2011. Already in 2012 there have been 115 confirmed cases, a figure which is likely to be higher in reality as not all cases are confirmed in a laboratory.

The dangers of swine flu to those who have weakened immunity were highlighted in January 2011, when young mother Sarah Applin, 32, of Thurston, near Bury St Edmunds, died at the West Suffolk Hospital from complications with pneumonia following treatment for swine flu. She had given birth to a son just two weeks earlier.

Do you have a health story? Call reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419 or email kim.briscoe@archant.co.uk

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