Should Pregnant Women Get the Flu Vaccine?
The answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!” According to the CDC, “flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women more prone to severe illness from flu as well as hospitalizations and even death. Pregnant woman with flu also have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery.”
Flu shots will protect pregnant women and their unborn babies and even protect the baby after birth.
An article in the October 2014 NEJM Journal Watch Women’s Health reports on two randomized trials of influenza immunization in pregnant women in South Africa, and shows benefits for both the women and their infants. The researchers looked at the effect of immunization in both HIV-affected and HIV-unaffected women between 20 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Mothers and babies were followed for 24 weeks after birth for respiratory illness and confirmed cases of flu. Women without HIV who received the vaccine and their babies were less likely to develop flu than women without HIV who got placebo (confirmed rates of flu 1.8% vs 3.6%, P=0.05 in women, and 1.9% vs 3.6%, P=0.01 in babies). Women with HIV also benefitted from the vaccine (7.0% vs 17.0%, P=0.05), but their babies did not (5.0% and 6.8%, P=0.6).
Currently, only about half of all pregnant women in the US are vaccinated for influenza. As the author of the article says, “Success depends on clinicians both endorsing the vaccine’s use and providing it as part of routine prenatal care.” If pregnant women are not offered the flu vaccine at the beginning of the flu season, generally in October, they should ask their provider how to get it.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnant Women and Influenza. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/pregnant.htm
Madhi SA et al. Influenza vaccination of pregnant women and protection of their infants N Engl J Med 2014 Sep 4;371:918.
Wald A. Influenza vaccination during pregnancy can safeguard both mothers and infants. NEJM Journal Watch Women’s Health 19:10, October 2014.