New Delhi: An expert panel has recommended immunisation of women against influenza during pregnancy to protect mothers and their babies from serious health complications.
A committee on medical disorder in pregnancy, set up by the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), said while high risk groups like children have seen a gradual rise in vaccinations, there is low awareness amongst pregnant women about the safety and the efficacy of the flu vaccination which has resulted in low immunisation.
During pregnancy, pregnant women face an increased risk of flu complications given the changes in the immune system, heart and lung functioning. Influenza can also lead to low birth weight, premature deliveries, still births and neonatal deaths, the committee said.
"There is a certain level of fear amongst pregnant women on getting the flu shot, but it is an inactivated vaccine and is absolutely safe and effective in preventing flu.
"When administered, it passively immunises the neonatal by transferring maternal antibodies through placenta, thus protecting the baby from flu related complications," said Dr Sonia Naik, Senior Consultant at Max Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccination against influenza is the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications. The vaccination has already been administered to millions of pregnant women over many years and has not been reported to cause any potential harm to either mother or baby.
India has witnessed a swine flu outbreak that has killed nearly 2,167 people across different states and affected 35,077 people as on April 11, 2015. In Delhi, as on April 9, 12 people had died of the disease while the number of those affected reached 4,254.
"The number of pregnant women dying of flu is increasing, even while such cases could have been prevented through immunisation. Delhi itself has recorded two pregnant women succumbing to swine flu this year.
"There is a lack of awareness amongst pregnant women in India regarding the serious complications of influenza and the risks associated. Maternal immunisation against influenza will ensure maternal health, safeguard the foetus and reduce influenza related illnesses in infants," says Dr Sharda Jain, Director at Life Care Centre.