In the UK, two vaccines are currently offered to pregnant women. Follow the links below to find out more about the reasons for giving these vaccines in pregnancy:
Almost all deaths from whooping cough occur in young babies before they have had a chance to be vaccinated. These babies can be protected by vaccinating the mother during pregnancy. In 2015-16, 58% of pregnant women in England received the whooping cough vaccine.
The risk from serious influenza is especially high in pregnancy. Death rates from flu are higher among pregnant women than among women who are not pregnant. Flu in the mother is also a risk to the baby, but vaccination protects pregnant women and their baby from these effects. In the 2015-16 flu season, 42% of pregnant women in England (over 305,000 women) received the flu vaccine.
Preventing these serious illnesses and their complications by vaccination will save lives. Understandably, some pregnant women may be concerned about the effects of the vaccine itself on their unborn baby, but there is no evidence that either of these vaccines causes any harm to the mother or to the baby.
Rubella (German measles) vaccination
All women who are thinking about becoming pregnant are advised to check that they have been vaccinated against rubella (usually as part of the MMR vaccine). This is because catching rubella in pregnancy can have a very serious effect on the unborn baby (see information on Congenital Rubella Syndrome). It is too late to be vaccinated against rubella once you are pregnant.
Since April 2016, pregnant women in the UK have not been offered screening for rubella susceptibility. Previously, all pregnant women were offered a blood test to check whether they were immune to rubella. This change reflects the great success of the MMR vaccine in reducing transmission of the rubella virus to almost zero. MMR vaccination rates are almost 94% in the UK, which means that pregnant women are protected from rubella by herd immunity. In 2011, a review by the UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) found that there were almost no cases of congenital rubella syndrome in the UK (less than 1 case per 100,000 live births). According to World Health Organization criteria, this effectively means the disease has been eliminated. The UK NSC therefore recommended that the screening programme should stop. See the Public Health England statement for more information. Women of child-bearing age will still be offered the MMR vaccine if they have not already had it, or are not sure if they have had it.
Vaccines in Development: Group B Streptococcus
Group B streptococcus is the commonest cause of serious infection and meningitis in babies under 3 months old, and is usually passed from mother to baby around birth. A vaccine is not yet available to pregnant women, but several are being developed. See more information on Group B Streptococcus.