Pregnant women are being urged to get vaccinated to protect both themselves and their unborn babies as this year's flu season gets underway.

Latest NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly figures show that fewer expectant mums have so far come forward than at the same point last year - currently 20 per cent have been vaccinated compared with 22 percent at this stage of the vaccination programme last year.

James Bolt, public health specialist from NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, said: “We fully appreciate that some women may have concerns about having the flu vaccine during pregnancy but the vaccine is safe for both mother and baby and can be given at any stage during pregnancy - the sooner the better.

“Pregnant women are more prone to complications from flu, which can cause very serious illness for both the mother and her baby.

“We also know that the H1N1 virus - known as swine flu - seems to particularly affect pregnant women, more so than other strains of flu.

“For all these reasons, pregnant women should have the flu vaccination at any stage of their pregnancy. Having the vaccination when pregnant also helps protect their baby from flu over the first few months of life.”

Take up rates in the over 65s - all of whom are eligible for the vaccination by the NHS - are encouragingly up on last year at 57 percent, compared with 48 percent at the same point in 2010.

Patients under 65 who are at risk of developing complications from flu because of other conditions, are also coming forward in increased numbers - 36 percent compared with 28.5 percent previously - but take up overall remains lower than health experts would like.

James added: “The vaccine protects against the three most common forms of flu in circulation this year, including swine flu.

“But time is running out - we probably have about three weeks left until flu activity increases, as we saw last year, and you need to allow time for antibodies to develop and provide immunity, so we need people to get booked in as soon as possible to minimise the risks for them.

“These flu viruses kill around 600 people in the UK every year. A single trip to the doctor can protect our most vulnerable people against them.”

More information about flu, the symptoms, the risks and the vaccination is available on the NHS Choices website at