Posted on: October 16, 2014
Pregnancy, Your Immune System and the Flu Vaccine
By Maureen Varcasio, RN
Pregnant women can protect themselves and their babies by getting the flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that all pregnant women get vaccinated with the Influenza (Flu) vaccine.
During pregnancy changes in the immune system, heart and lungs put women at an increased risk for severe illness, hospitalization or even death from the flu. If a pregnant woman becomes infected with an influenza virus it also increases their risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as premature labor or delivery. Because of this higher risk of complications all pregnant women should receive the flu shot as part of their prenatal care. The Influenza vaccine is safe for pregnant women and can be given at any time during the pregnancy; the sooner the better.
The maternal flu shot is also a safe and effective way for a pregnant mother to protect her newborn from serious illness and complications of the flu since infants younger than 6 months of age are too young to be vaccinated. Newborns that become infected with the influenza viruses have more hospital stays and get more bacterial respiratory infections. Also childhood deaths related to the flu occur most frequently in children under 6 months of age. When a pregnant woman gets vaccinated antibodies cross the placenta to her baby providing the Influenza antibodies needed to protect the infant from getting the flu. These antibodies will remain in the newborn for the first 3-6 months of life.
“pregnant women should receive the inactivated Influenza vaccine”
It is important to know that the nasal spray Influenza vaccine should never be given during pregnancy because it contains the live flu virus. All pregnant women should receive the inactivated Influenza vaccine which is given with a needle, usually in the arm. You cannot get the flu from the vaccine.
Some women may be concerned about Thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in trace amounts in multi-dose vaccine vials. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists “Thimerosal…. has not been shown to be harmful to a pregnant woman or her baby.” Occasionally, skin irritation can occur at the injection site. Preservative free single-dose Influenza vaccines are available from some manufactures if you are concerned about Thimerosal.
Getting the Influenza (Flu) vaccine is the best protection against the flu for both the pregnant mother and her unborn baby. All family members and child care providers should also be vaccinated to protect the newborn after birth.
Editor’s Note: Maureen Varcasio is a registered nurse working in the maternal child health department at Northern Westchester Hospital.
You can learn more about this topic at The American College of http://www.immunizationforwomen.org/immunization_facts/seasonal_influenza and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/pregnant.htm.