An international project, led by the University of Adelaide, hopes to improve the uptake of vaccines against influenza and COVID-19 for pregnant women and children with chronic health conditions.
Research lead for the project, University of Adelaide’s Professor Helen Marshall AM, said that the risks of adverse health outcomes for unvaccinated pregnant women and vulnerable children were widely underestimated in the community.
“Pregnant women are three times more likely to die from COVID-19, and with influenza, they are more than seven times more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit than non-pregnant women,” she said.
“What we are also seeing with COVID-19 is damage to the placenta and a greater risk of still and pre-term births.
“Children with some chronic diseases already have a higher risk of hospitalisation and admission to intensive care from influenza, and following COVID-19 infection, there is increased potential for long term disability.”
Despite these alarming risks, Professor Marshall said vaccination rates in these two vulnerable groups were suboptimal.
“Uptake of the recommended influenza vaccine among pregnant women and medically at-risk children in Australia is only about 50% and based on recent surveys, the uptake of COVID-19 vaccine among children is similar,” she said.
“We are heading into winter with co-circulation of influenza and COVID-19 and a likely severe influenza season.
“Adding to the elevated risk is that a large proportion of the population now has low immunity due to no exposure to influenza for the past two years.”
The project team, including researchers from around Australia and the UK as well as paediatric and obstetric specialists in hospitals in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, will engage with pregnant women, parents of children with chronic health conditions and health professionals to look at what factors could positively influence the uptake of vaccinations.
“We know that passive health information alone is not enough to move the uptake statistics,” Professor Marshal said.
The team will then be working to find strategies that are easily implementable in hospitals that are proven to increase immunisation coverage for two very vulnerable groups.
“Targeted, evidence-based interventions in hospital settings are urgently needed rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach, if we are to reduce hospitalisations, long-term negative health outcomes, and deaths for these most vulnerable groups,” she said.