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Flu shots are safe for pregnant women

Last updated on October 1st, 2020 at 12:44 pm

Not that it was required, but there’s even more evidence that flu shots are safe and efficacious for pregnant women, neonates and fetuses. A study published recently in Obstetrics & GynecologyEffect of influenza vaccination in the first trimester of pregnancy, investigated the effects of influenza vaccinations on fetal and neonatal outcomes. 

Over a 5 year study period, a total of 8,690 women received a seasonal trivalent inactive influenza vaccine during the first trimester, and delivered babies at the study institution. Some of the key results were:

  • Women vaccinated during pregnancy were significantly older with more pregnancies than women who declined vaccination.
  • About 2 percent had a baby with a major birth defect, such as a malformation in the heart or a cleft lip, identical to the rate among almost 77,000 pregnant women who did not get the vaccine.
  • Women who were vaccinated had lower stillbirth (0.3% compared with 0.6%, P=.006).
  • Women who were vaccinated had lower neonatal death (0.2% compared with 0.4%, P=.01).
  • Women who were vaccinated had lower premature delivery rates (5% compared with 6%, P=.004).

Those are some very important results. Mothers vaccinated for the flu are at no higher risk for birth defects than mothers who are unvaccinated. And, according to these results, had lower risks for stillbirth, neonatal death or premature delivery. However, there probably are some other confounding variable such as education or experience of the mother (we might be self-selecting for mothers who are more capable of prenatal care just because they are choosing flu vaccinations), so we should consider those results as interesting rather than conclusive. Of course, if those results were reversed, you can assume that the vaccine denialists would be using it as Causus belli to condemn all flu vaccines (probably all vaccines) as a danger to pregnant women. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection strongly recommends that flu “vaccination of pregnant women protects women and newborns. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians also have previously recommended routine vaccination of all pregnant women.” Unfortunately, the CDC reported that only about 32% of US women receive a flu vaccine during pregnancy, although about 12% were vaccinated prior to pregnancy. (There is also some variability depending on time of year, since vaccines are more often offered during the traditional flu season of fall and winter.)

Interestingly, the report also stated that women who received a health-care provider offer of flu vaccination were more likely to have positive attitudes about the effectiveness of influenza vaccination (82% versus 54%), safety of influenza vaccination for pregnant women (78% versus 53%), and safety of vaccination for their infants (75% versus 47%). The top 5 reasons for not receiving influenza vaccination were:

  • “I am concerned about possible safety risks to my baby if I got vaccinated”–20%
  • “I am concerned that the vaccination would give me the flu”–17%
  • “I don’t think the vaccination is effective in preventing flu”–14%
  • “I am concerned about possible safety risk to myself if I got vaccinated”–11%
  • Either “I don’t think I would get very sick if I got the flu” or “I think if I get the flu, I will just get some medication to treat it”–14%

Well, maybe with information presented with the study mentioned at the top of this article, that there just aren’t any safety risks, that actually there might even be a slight benefit to the flu vaccine, more mothers will get the flu vaccine while pregnant. Because, not to repeat myself too much, but Vaccines do Save Lives.

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Michael Simpson

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