While influenza is more likely to cause serious illness in pregnant women than other people their age and can lead to neural tube defects and other complications in developing babies, vaccine hesitancy is at an all-time high. Doctors say September through November are generally the ideal months for everyone to get a flu vaccine, and expectant moms and other people who will be around any newborn should add vaccination to their to-do lists now.
Dr. Tracey Banks, Clinical Advisor for Lucina, explained, “Flu vaccination during pregnancy doesn’t just protect mom from serious flu complications. A pregnant mother passes on to her unborn baby antibodies that continue to protect the baby after birth.”
Breastfeeding moms who are vaccinated also share antibodies through breast milk with infants who are too young to get vaccinated themselves.
Research has shown that in previous years, flu vaccination has halved the risk of flu virus infection in pregnant moms and reduced by an average of 40% pregnant moms’ risk of being hospitalized with the illness.
Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that during last year’s flu season, nearly 25% of surveyed pregnant women said they were hesitant to get vaccinated against the flu. This year, 43% say they are unsure whether they will get vaccinated according to the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases. Immunization rates are disproportionately lower among pregnant Black women than pregnant White women.
Pregnant women should not get the nasal spray flu vaccine, but flu shots have been proven to be safe for both mom and baby. Flu shots have been given to millions of pregnant women over the past 50 years, and are recommended at any time in pregnancy. When getting a vaccination at a location other than their doctor’s office, there is no need for pregnant women to get permission or consent from their physician.
Unvaccinated people who catch the flu virus are at risk for serious complications including hospitalization and even death. Meanwhile, side effects for those who build immunity through the vaccine are typically mild, such as redness, soreness and tenderness at the injection site, muscle aches, headache, and low fever. It’s extremely rare to have a serious allergic reaction to the flu shot, and experts do not believe flu vaccines increase susceptibility to other respiratory infections.
Since vaccine protection declines over time and flu strains evolve, it is important to get a flu vaccine every year. Although fall is the ideal time of year to seek out vaccination ahead of flu season, it’s not too late to get a vaccination if flu viruses are still circulating.
“Flu vaccines are effective, safe and provide important protection for mom and baby,” said Dr. Banks, who has cared for pregnant women for more than 25 years. “Myths about the vaccine lead some moms to question whether they should get the vaccine, but those with concerns should talk with their doctor instead of waiting to get a flu shot or deciding against vaccination. It’s important to note that pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized by the flu than non-pregnant woman.”
Dr. Banks also says that the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine is recommended for pregnant women after 32 weeks because it helps protect the newborn from the virus.
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