For pregnant women, the pandemic has already provided so much to be aware of — and, let’s be honest, worry about — when it comes to your health, so considering something like a flu vaccination raises some important questions. Should I get vaccinated this year? Is the shot safe for me? Is it safe for my baby?
This month, we look at these questions and examine why this year, perhaps more than ever, it is important that everyone 6 months of age and older —including and especially pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding—be vaccinated against the flu.
Setting aside for a moment any specific concerns related to pregnancy, the mountain of research on the importance and effectiveness of annual flu vaccinations for everyone over 6 months of age should not be ignored. For those still unsure, even a cursory glimpse at the what experts highlight as the benefits of the flu vaccine should remove any doubt:
Getting a flu shot is a safe, accessible, and potentially life-saving measure for you and those around you, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Remaining safe and healthy during the pandemic starts with a review of and adherence to prescribed measures from the experts on ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These measures save lives, but as we know too well, this virus has spread even with these measures in place. This is a time to take every opportunity to protect yourself and others.
A flu vaccination offers protection from the immune-suppressed and weakened state brought on by seasonal flu, and more importantly, lessens that chances that someone will need hospitalization and resources which are sorely needed to aid in the fight against COVID-19. Further, seasonal flu and COVID-19 share many symptoms, so vaccinating yourself against the flu means that if symptoms do appear, diagnosis and treatment of the appropriate virus becomes clearer for your caregivers.
For pregnant women, seasonal flu can be particularly dangerous, as normal changes to your immune system, heart, and lungs can make you more susceptible to complications from the flu. These same immunologic and physiologic changes may also make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19. A flu vaccine is a simple, expert recommended way to protect yourself.
Yes. It is both safe and important for pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding to get vaccinated against the flu to protect themselves and their babies. These annually updated vaccines are developed with the highest possible safety standards, and are rigorously tested by the FDA and CDC. Decades of research and study, and millions of vaccinations to pregnant women have shown that getting the flu vaccine is a safe for women who are pregnant and women who are breastfeeding, and can reduce their risk of flu-related acute respiratory infection by up to 50%. But more than being safe, it’s important for both you and your baby.
As we referenced above, the normal changes your immune system undergoes during pregnancy can present a higher risk of severe flu complications. You are also at an increased risk of complications during pregnancy such as preterm labor or preterm birth. Further, there are numerous risks for the baby associated with severe or long-term fever in the mother. “The flu virus is highly infectious and can be particularly dangerous to pregnant women, as it can cause pneumonia, premature labor, and other complications,” said Laura Riley, MD, chair of ACOG’s Immunization Expert Work Group, “vaccination every year, early in the season and regardless of the stage of pregnancy, is the best line of defense.”
Healthy moms are more likely to have healthy babies. You’ve already done so much to prepare yourself and your life to welcome the baby, taking the step to protect yourself is an important way to stay out of the hospital and be prepared to meet this new life.
We’ve outlined the numerous reasons why it is important for pregnant women to be vaccinated against the flu this year, but it’s important to recognize that getting vaccinated for the flu while you’re pregnant also provides several benefits for the baby. The flu vaccine isn’t approved for infant use before 6 months of age, so getting vaccinated during pregnancy allows the antibodies that the mother’s body develops to fight the virus to be passed to the infant through the placenta, and continues to help protect the baby after birth. Similarly, mothers who breastfeed can share these antibodies through breastmilk to aid the baby’s healthy and safe development.
It is important to note that there are currently two types of vaccines against the seasonal flu: an injection (shot) that contains a deadened or inactive form of the flu virus, and a nasal mist containing a live, attenuated form of the virus. While both provide measures of protection against the seasonal flu, it is strongly recommended that pregnant women ONLY seek the flu shot with the inactive form of the virus. It can be obtained at any point in their pregnancy, whereas the nasal mist is only recommended for women after they have given birth and ceased breastfeeding.
As our society is struggling to find the science, resources, and path through this terrible pandemic, taking the simple, accessible, and expert-recommended step of getting a flu shot has innumerable benefits for you, your baby, and everyone around you. This year, more than ever, consider vaccination.
If you are pregnant and think you have the flu, contact your provider right away to discuss getting the care you need.