Uptake of flu, whooping cough, and Covid-19 vaccines remains low among pregnant women, according to University of Warwick research

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick has unveiled crucial insights into the complex factors shaping vaccination decisions among pregnant women, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pregnant women and their unborn babies face heightened risks of serious illness from infectious diseases such as Influenza (flu), Pertussis (whooping cough), and Covid-19. The research, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), shows that despite the proven safety and efficacy of vaccinations during pregnancy, uptake remains alarmingly low, presenting a significant public health concern.

Despite the availability of free vaccinations for pregnant women in the UK, of those who gave birth in England in October 2021, 29.4% had received 2 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, compared to approximately 60.4% of the general population.

The study , titled "Factors Influencing Vaccination Uptake Amongst Pregnant Women Following the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Study," interviewed pregnant women aged between 19 and 41 exploring their perceptions, experiences, and the factors influencing their decisions regarding vaccinations.

Dr Jo Parsons from the University of Warwick who led the research said, "This research demonstrates the influence that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on pregnant women’s views and uptake of recommended vaccinations and is further evident by the continuing decline in uptake since the pandemic. It is essential that pregnant women receive clear and consistent messaging, to allow them to make accurate and informed choices about vaccinating in pregnancy."

The findings are categorised into four main areas, each influencing pregnant women’s vaccination decisions:
  • Internal factors or beliefs: Including feelings about susceptibility to illness during pregnancy, perceived immunity, feelings of responsibility for the health and wellbeing of themselves, their unborn baby and other people, and fear of vaccinations.

  • Vaccination related factors: Including perceived effectiveness, perceived safety, how available or accessible vaccinations were, and the preference to use other strategies of protection.

  • External Factors: This included how visible the illness being vaccinated against was felt to be, and how much of the illness was felt to be around at the time.

  • Covid-19 specific factors: Including doubts around the newness of the vaccination and, changing perceptions of the pandemic.

Commenting on the significance of the study, Dr Jo Parsons said, "This research is vital to learn how pregnant women feel about accepting vaccinations following a pandemic, and how to address low uptake, to protect more pregnant women from largely preventable conditions. This research provides valuable insights and informs future interventions to be developed.

The University of Warwick is one of the UK’s leading universities with over twenty-eight thousand students from 147 countries. Ranked 9th in the UK by The Guardian University Guide, it has an acknowledged reputation for excellence in research and teaching, for innovation, and for links with business and industry. The recent Research Excellence Framework classed 92% or it’s research as ’world leading’ or ’internationally excellent’. The University of Warwick was awarded University of the Year for Teaching Quality by The Times and Sunday Times.

About the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR):

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:
  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;

  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;

  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;

  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;

  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;

  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK international development funding from the UK government.