PREGNANT women, heart disease patients and people with kidney problems are putting their health on the line by shunning the swine flu vaccination.

About 120,895 Oxfordshire people are considered to be most at risk of contracting the ailment.

But GP surgeries across the county have recorded only a 50 per cent take-up among this group, with pregnant women the most reluctant to have the vaccination.

NHS Oxfordshire, the new name for Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust, last night urged everyone who falls into the high-risk category to have the injection.

Those deemed most susceptible to the H1NI virus are people with long-term illness, such as chronic liver, heart and kidney diseases, and pregnant women.

From next month, a national programme will also begin to vaccinate all children under five.

Angela Baker, consultant in public health for Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust, said pregnant women and those who lived in high deprivation in areas of Banbury and Oxford were not taking up the swine flu jab as well as hoped.

She said: “There are two very different groups of people who are not taking up the vaccination.

“Those who don’t believe in healthcare and are not engaged with local health services, who tend to live in more deprived areas.

“And there are those who have made a very informed choice not to have the vaccine.”

The Department of Health said swine flu increases the risk of complications such as miscarriage and premature labour in pregnant women.

It has launched a national campaign to encourage more expectant mothers to have the jab.

Take-up rates have varied across the county, from as low as 30 per cent in Headington to as high as 80 per cent in Chipping Norton, although NHS Oxfordshire said the variation could be partly explained by delays in delivery of the vaccine to some GP surgeries.

The county saw an average of a 50 per cent take-up among the high-risk group, according to NHS Oxfordshire.

Dr Baker said although pregnant women were the most likely to shun the jab, they were among the most at risk.

She added: “Ten per cent of all people hospitalised because of swine flu are pregnant women.”

She added that 10 of the more than 120 people who had died from swine flu across the country had been pregnant women.

Mother-of-two Samantha Tong, 37, of Abingdon Road, Oxford, said she was still unsure whether she would have the free swine flu vaccination.

Mrs Tong, whose third child is due in six weeks, said pregnant women could be reluctant because the vaccine had not been around long enough for them to make an informed choice.

She said: “I don’t think we’re being told enough about it.

“I have spoken with my midwife and doctor, and still don’t know whether I am going to have it.

“You have to weigh up what the damage is likely to be to your unborn baby, and what would happen if you were to fall ill.

“It’s a very difficult decision to make.”

Julie Osborne, a breastfeeding counsellor for the Baby Cafe breastfeeding clinics in Oxford, said many mothers were talking about the vaccine.

She said: “A lot of mums and pregnant women are trying to decide what to do.

“People feel they don’t know enough about it one way or the other to be able to make a choice. “ However, Dr Baker said pregnant women should feel reassured.

She added: “The only way we can properly protect people from swine flu is by vaccinating them before they become too ill.”