Vaccines, Pregnancy and my PhD
National Immunization Awareness Month
WEEK 2: Pregnancy and Vaccines
As a PhD student, we don’t ‘settle down’ all that early. The continuing education or the ‘grind of grad school’ requires that you plan out as much of your personal life as you possibly can. This means planning where you are going to live, who is coming with you, and when and where you are going to have kids.
As a student in the field of public health, we do more than just think about the timing of our pregnancy, we think about our health, our future lifestyle choices and the vaccines you should get during pregnancy that will protect you and your child over the entire developmental lifecycle, from pre-pregnancy to infancy.
I’m not saying my other non-academic public health friends don’t discuss these topics, it is just we discuss this topic in great detail.
For instance, emerging research is showing that the preconception period and the prenatal environment (life in the uterus) have profound effects on fetal development. Therefore planning a pregnancy doesn’t just encompass making sure you get the correct vaccines during your pregnancy, but making sure you keep up to date with you immunizations long before you decide to even have a child.
The topic of vaccinations is normally not part of the lifestyle checklist of changes that one thinks of when they plan on getting pregnant (eating well, exercise, sleep, not smoking, not drinking) but is in fact one of the best ways to start protecting you and your unborn child, before, during and after your pregnancy.
Vaccines, such as the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, you should get before your pregnancy.
Vaccines, like Tdap (to protect against whooping cough), and the flu, you should get during pregnancy because of their ability to provide your baby with immunity that will last the first months of life as your baby will benefit from passive antibody transfer. This is critical for diseases like the flu and whooping cough since infants in the first several months of life are at the greatest risk of severe illness from these diseases but they are too young to be vaccinated themselves.
In 2012, whooping cough sixteen babies died because these babies were too young to be protected against whooping cough.
And in 2012, 171 children died from the flu because most are too young to be vaccinated and were not protect from the flu.
You do not have to have lengthy, drawn out academic discussions like me and my PhD peers about the “developmental origins hypothesis” and obsess over the environment and gene interactions and their influence towards our life cycle trajectory.