Pregnant? You Need a Flu Shot—and Here's Why
If you are pregnant and thinking of forgoing your annual flu shot, think again. Doctors are adamant about pregnant women protecting themselves from the flu—and with good reason. Changes in the immune system during pregnancy put women at increased risk of serious complications, including premature labor and premature birth. According to the latest guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), all pregnant women, regardless of trimester, should receive a flu shot during the 2013-14 cold and flu season.
While some pregnant women fear the vaccine might give them the flu—which doctors say won’t happen—or that it might harm their unborn babies, not getting vaccinated could have a more negative impact, and not just for the mom-to-be.
Flu vaccines perform double duty by protecting both pregnant women and their babies. Babies cannot be vaccinated against the flu until they are 6 months old, but they receive antibodies from their mother which help protect them until they can be vaccinated.
“We all want healthy mothers and healthy infants, and one of our most effective means of achieving that goal is by assuring women are vaccinated against the flu,” said ACOG President Dr. Jeanne Conry. “The flu vaccine is very safe for pregnant women—it protects both mom and baby.”
And while not perfect, the flu shot is highly effective. According to the CDC, last year, the flu shot “kept an estimated 79,000 people out of the hospital and prevented 6.6 million influenza illnesses.”
The rate of vaccination among pregnant women is similar to the 2012-13 season–when a record number of pregnant women (51%) received the vaccine.
“We’re tracking pregnant women,” Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press briefing. “They can have very severe complications from influenza, and their babies can be very sick and even die. So it’s very important for pregnant women to get vaccinated. Comparing this year with last year, we’re just about at the same point—about 41% of pregnant women have been vaccinated as of mid-November. We have more work to do.”
In the name of flu vaccine awareness, the CDC and other agencies are getting help from celebrities like Amanda Peet, a mother of two and ambassador for the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign, and actress Tia Mowry, the mother of a 2-year-old, who has also toted the merits of flu shots. Mowry told Parade magazine, “My role is just to bring awareness to it and help people like myself, who live a very busy lifestyle, to focus on our health. One way we can do that is to make sure that we get vaccinated—not only to protect ourselves, but to protect our family.”
Vaccination early in the flu season is best, says ACOG, but getting a flu shot any time during cold and flu season, regardless of the stage of pregnancy, can still offer protection. ACOG advises that all women who are or become pregnant during the annual flu season (October through May) get the inactivated flu vaccine—the flu shot. Nasal mist flu vaccines, because they contain a live virus, should not be given to pregnant women.
If you are still unsure about whether to get a flu shot, talk to your doctor or your healthcare provider.
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