|Dr. Kristen Vallery|
Pregnant women have a higher risk of complications secondary to the flu than the rest of the population. One study showed that out of 10,000 pregnant women in the third trimester, 25 will be hospitalized for severe complications including intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, intubations, and even death.
There are many benefits to getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy.
First, it can prevent the flu for pregnant mothers. Secondly, sometimes the flu vaccine may have different virus particles in it than what starts circulating in the general public. This won’t necessarily prevent the flu, but the circulating antibodies may protect you enough to not cause serious complications. In essence, you get a milder flu. Thirdly, taking the flu vaccine in pregnancy can decrease the infection risk in your unborn baby by about 40% during the first 6 months of his or her life. This is especially important since the baby cannot be vaccinated in the first 6 months and the mortality rates from flu are higher in infants less than 6 months of age. They basically count on your antibodies that cross the placenta to protect them until they can mount an immune response of their own.
Many people also worry about whether it is safe for the baby and mom to get exposed to the vaccine. The vaccine is very safe. A study on the flu vaccine examined over 2,000 pregnant patients. During this study, no adverse fetal effects were noted from the flu vaccine. Mothers, however, may expect to have a sore muscle, swelling at the injection site, or low grade fevers. These are the most common reactions. There is a very rare risk of a severe reaction to the vaccine that can cause paralysis of the body (usually temporary) known as Guillan-Barre Syndrome. In addition, you should not take the vaccine if you have an allergy to eggs. Pregnant women should get the “shot” which is the inactivated vaccine containing killed virus. DO NOT take the oral vaccine which contains live-altered virus. The makers of the vaccine usually make a general vaccine and a “preservative-free” vaccine. Both are safe for pregnancy. However, you can ask your clinic or pharmacist if they have the preservative free vaccine available if you want to be extra careful.
This year, the flu vaccine contains both the swine flu, influenza A and influenza B. Unlike last year, there are not two separate vaccines. Once vaccinated, it takes about 2 weeks to develop and adequate immune response. So you could still be susceptible to infection until you have developed your antibody response. Therefore, you should get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available in the community and especially before December which is prime flu season. The typical flu season lasts from October to May, but can vary from year to year. Also, all members of your family that will come into contact with your newborn should also be vaccinated this year to prevent the spread of the virus to your soon to be newborn.
Of a personal note… It’s always nice to learn that we as physicians actually practice what we preach. I have the honors of having a beautiful 7 month old, who is the new love of my life. Last year, I had to decide whether or not to take the vaccine. In addition, it was the year when then new swine flu vaccine was released. I did my research and chose to take both the regular flu and swine flu vaccines.
Hope this helps answer the question. Until I blog again…
Dr. Kristen Vallery
OB/GYN on the medical staff
Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford