Women who become pregnant during flu season (November through March) must consider whether or not to take the influenza vaccine. While many medical groups, including the March of Dimes, and the CDC encourage pregnant women to take the shot, many moms-to-be wonder if the vaccine is really safe for the baby. Pregnancy changes the way the immune system works for many women and because they are more likely to contract serious illnesses they are classified as “high risk” and are encouraged to be vaccinated.
Complications like bacterial pneumonia and dehydration are two common complications that pregnant women may experience if they contract the flu. Aside from the coughing, fever, body aches the risk of ending up in the hospital are even higher than for those who are not pregnant. In some cases, these complications may even result in death. While many women are afraid to take even a Tylenol during the course of their pregnancy, lining up for a vaccine can seem scary. Thankfully, the influenza vaccine has not been shown to cause complications for either the mother or fetus. According to a recent study by the Yale School of Medicine, it appears that a flu vaccine is over 90% effective at preventing flu in infants during the first six months of life if the shot is given to their mothers during pregnancy.
The December issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases features the study and shows proof that for the tiniest of our population who cannot take the vaccine, giving it to their mothers may be the next best thing. Influenza vaccine is not approved for babies less than 6 months of age, and without protection many parents fear an outbreak of flu. Until now, the CDC has recommended that any adults in close, regular proximity with small children make a point to be vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of the disease. Based on the results of the study, authors stated that mothers who took the vaccine passed on a 91.5% chance that their babies would be protected after birth. Researchers also felt that vaccinating mothers was a cost-effective method of controlling flu as well– “one shot protects two people.”
Those at highest risk for developing complications of flu include the very old and the very young, and those with compromised immune systems, like pregnant women. Any pregnant woman who is considering vaccination should talk with her obstetrician to determine if it is a good choice for her individual case. As with any flu vaccine, those who are allergic to eggs, or who have had a previous reaction to a flu vaccine should avoid the vaccination. FluMist–the live nasal mist form of the flu vaccine is not approved for use during pregnancy and should be avoided. Pregnant women must take the injection method only, and should weigh the risks and benefits before going forward. As with any flu vaccine women who are allergic to eggs or any component of eggs should avoid the vaccine.
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