Flu Vaccine Protects a Pregnant Women, Her Unborn Baby and Her Newborn Baby
Oct 26, 2012

This guest post was contributed by Melody Butler and originally appeared on the Nurses Who Vaccinate blog.  It has been edited and modified in length for inclusion in this Shot Of Prevention Friday Flu Shot series. 
Marie was a nurse, expecting her third child when the H1N1 scare arose.  At that time, her state was considering a mandate that would force all healthcare professionals to get the flu vaccine or face being fired.  Marie knew she couldn’t escape contact with the flu virus, since more than 60% of the patients her unit was seeing at that time consisted of people suffering with influenza.  Marie was concerned about protecting her unborn baby, but still somewhat reluctant to get the shot, so she addressed her concerns with her fellow employees, including the head of Infectious Disease and the Clinical Nurse Educators.  She wanted some assurance that receiving the flu vaccine while pregnant was safe.

What did Marie learn about influenza in pregnancy?

Influenza can cause severe illness and complications in pregnant women due to the changes in their immune, cardiac, and pulmonary systems during pregnancy. This makes pregnant women more likely to suffer adverse affects from influenza, as well as hospitalizations and even death.
When a pregnant woman contracts influenza, it increases her likelihood of premature labor and delivery, which in turn leads to a much higher risk of complications and even death for her child.

Pregnant women should get the seasonal flu vaccine.

The flu vaccine helps protect both the mother and the child by preventing or lessening the intensity of influenza.  In fact, there is a 70% decrease in preterm deliveries during the flu season for moms who got their yearly flu shot.  In September’s issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers found women who received the flu vaccine were less likely to suffer a stillbirth –  just 0.3% of vaccinated women gave birth to stillborn infants, while 0.6% of unvaccinated women delivered stillborn babies. And mothers who receive the flu vaccine are significantly less likely to have respiratory illness with fever and fewer clinic visits. 

Influenza vaccine protect a woman’s unborn baby as well as her newborn baby. 

Marie learned that newborns enter the world without any protective immunity and while breastfeeding can help pass on some immunities, there is question as to how much and how long that immunity lasts.  Unfortunately, infants are not able to receive the flu vaccine until they are six months of age.  Meanwhile they remain extremely vulnerable to the flu. Infants who fall victim to the flu can become severely ill.  Many require hospitalization and some even die.
However, when pregnant women receive their flu vaccine, they’re not only protecting their baby in the uterus, but the protective effects of the flu vaccine continue on in that child after birth.
Several studies have found that pregnant women who received a flu vaccination passed their flu immunity to their babies in the form of flu antibodies.

“Our research suggests that maternal vaccination does provide some protection from the flu for a few months after birth,” asserts lead author Dr. Julie Shakib, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah.

In a 2011 study, babies whose mothers had a flu shot during pregnancy were nearly 50% less likely to be diagnosed with the flu during their first flu season than were babies whose mothers didn’t have a flu shot during pregnancy.
One particular study revealed a sharp reduction in flu season hospitalizations among infants whose mothers were vaccinated against the flu, determining that the vaccine, when given to pregnant women, was 91.5% effective in preventing hospitalization of their infants for influenza in the first six months of life.  Comparatively, while 0.4% of unvaccinated mothers lost their babies soon after birth, only 0.2% of vaccinated mothers suffered the same loss. Still other studies show that the flu vaccine can reduce influenza in infants up to 6 months of age by 63% and helps to avert approximately a third of all febrile respiratory illnesses in mothers and young infants, proving that maternal influenza immunization benefits both mothers and infants.

Are Flu Shots Safe for Pregnant Mothers?

The flu shot has been studied in over ten thousand pregnant women and there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine presents a risk to either expectant mothers or their babies. Despite a common misconception that immunization of pregnant woman may lead to miscarriage, there are significant scientific studies that have determined that there is no risk of such complications among pregnant women who’ve received the flu vaccine.  In fact, based on these findings, the AJOG determined that the flu shot is safe during pregnancy.

Importance of Cocooning

It’s important that expectant parents not only get vaccinated for influenza, but also encourage family members, and those who will have close contact with their infant, to get their annual flu shot as well. This helps to lower the risk of exposure for both the mother and her unborn child.
Once Marie took the time to discuss her concerns with her colleagues and hospital educators, her questions were answered.  By the time Marie’s hospital had a supply of the vaccine, she was one of the first in line, anxious to protect herself and her baby.
Unfortunately not all pregnant mothers had early access to the H1N1 vaccine and as a result of contracting the flu there were many women, including one of Marie’s friends, who lost their child after contracting influenza and suffering from a miscarriage.
We are grateful for healthcare workers like Marie, who continue to play a vital role in educating pregnant mothers about the importance of the influenza vaccine – a vaccine that has saved countless lives over the past 45 years of use and helps new families start their lives healthy and flu-free.

Know anyone who is expecting?  Be sure to share this information with them.  We want moms, dads and grandparents to know how important it is for us adults to get our flu shots in order to protect our precious babies.

The Nurse Who Vaccinate blog and Facebook page helps provide timely information regarding immunization news. Their main objective is to promote knowledge and competency in immunizations and to position nurses and other health care professionals as vaccine advocates for colleagues, patients and the public.

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