LIVERPOOL is launching its annual flu campaign – with a particular emphasis on encouraging pregnant women and toddlers to get the vaccine.
Free vaccinations are available to all pregnant women, all children aged 2 to 8, residents with health conditions including chest or heart ailments, those aged 65 and over and carers of older or disabled people.
This year there is a special focus on mums-to-be and toddlers, as take up rates have historically not been as high as for other groups that are eligible for the vaccination.
"Last year just 44 percent of expectant women got a jab, leaving them at risk of getting flu during their pregnancy and complications such as pneumonia and premature birth."
Awareness and take up is also lower for younger children - only one in three of those aged 2-3 had the nasal spray vaccine, which is far lower than the 60 percent of children who receive it through their primary school. This year, all primary school children from reception to year 4 will be offered the vaccine at school.
Councillor Paul Brant, Cabinet member for adult health, said: “We want to keep people well over the winter and out of hospital, and the vaccine is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus which can cause misery for the whole family and in some cases can be a killer.
“Flu can lay you low for months and is easily avoidable for those who are eligible for the free vaccine, particularly those who are most vulnerable such as pregnant women, young children, over 65s, those with long term health conditions and their carers.
“It is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus which can affect and cause misery for the whole family, and in some cases can sadly be a killer.
“If you have a long-term health condition, like bronchitis, diabetes, heart kidney or liver disease or have suffered a stroke, the effects of flu can make it worse and you could end up in hospital – even if your condition is well-managed and you normally feel well.
“We’re particularly keen to get the message across to pregnant women that the flu vaccine is important to protect them and their baby, and is safe for pregnant women at any time in pregnancy. Pregnancy naturally weakens the body’s immune system and the vaccine reduces the risk of complications like premature birth and pneumonia.
"I encourage everyone who is eligible to contact your GP or pharmacist now to get vaccinated. It is vital because it protects against different strains of flu which change every year."
The drive is being backed by midwives at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and councillors – including one who is pregnant and another who was off work for three months after coming down with flu.
Jenny Butters, Matron at Liverpool Women’s Hospital said: “It is extremely important that we get the message across to pregnant women about the importance of flu vaccination.
“The vaccine reduces the risk of complications of flu like premature birth and pneumonia and I encourage all pregnant women to get vaccinated.
“You can safely have the flu vaccine at any time in pregnancy to protect you and your baby, and it also helps to protect babies from flu in their first few months of life.”
Councillor Michelle Corrigan is expecting her first baby in October and has recently had her flu injection. She said: “I wanted to make sure that both myself and the baby are fully protected. I want to have the healthiest pregnancy I can and not put either of us at risk by getting flu.
“The first few months can be exhausting and I also wanted an assurance that I didn’t get the virus while I am a new mum. Getting the jab was quick and easy and I can now rest easy.”
"Flu can be horrible for little children and if they get it, they can spread it around the whole family. The vaccine is available as a free nasal spray for young children. If you have a child aged 2 or 3, you can contact your GP now to get the vaccine. Your child will get a quick spray up each nostril and it is an easy way to protect him or her from flu and stop flu spreading around the family as well."
The vaccine is being offered in all schools to children in reception class and years 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Councillor Richard Wenstone is a Consultant in critical care at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and has first hand experience of how serious flu can be. He was seriously ill with flu in 1995 and was off work for three months as a result.
He said: “I got flu and was off work for a few days but didn’t properly recover from it
“I was later diagnosed with low platelets which meant my blood wasn’t clotting properly and put simply I could have bled to death if I hadn’t received treatment. I was off work and on medication for three months as a result.
“The fact it happened to me when I was pretty fit and healthy shows that it could happen to anyone, and so I would urge anyone who is eligible for a free vaccine to get one because it could end up saving their life.
“Through my work at the Royal, I see lots of people ending up in intensive care with flu and it could easily be prevented if they had gone for the vaccine.”
People are seven times more likely to die from flu if they have chronic bronchitis, emphysema or asthma; 11 times more at risk of death if they have heart disease or angina and 48 times more likely to die if they have chronic liver disease