Saving Lives of Moms and Babies with Flu Shots

arm of pregnant woman getting flu vaccine

It’s flu season, time for my annual flu shot. It’s a must, not only because I want to protect myself from getting the flu and feeling miserable, but also because I want to make sure not to transmit the flu to my patients, many of whom are pregnant.

I’m an OB-GYN and a geneticist, so I know that pregnant women are at higher risk than the general population for severe complications and death from influenza. So I advise all of my pregnant patients to get their flu shots.

Both the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend a flu shot for every woman who is or will be pregnant during the influenza season, regardless of trimester. Due to my public health training, I never really question the importance of vaccination as a public health program; the data are clear that vaccination protects individuals and protects the public.

Yes, getting a vaccination has risks—but NOT getting a vaccination has much greater risks, especially for pregnant women.

The data reported on 2009 influenza A (H1N1) showed that pregnant women were more than four times as likely as the general population to be hospitalized. That pregnant women were dying from influenza was also brought to light in 2009: 5 percent of deaths from influenza reported to the CDC from April through August 2009 were among pregnant women, even though they were only about 1 percent of the general population. And there were no reports of serious adverse events or pregnancy complications resulting from the flu vaccine.

Babies born to mothers who receive their flu shots during pregnancy are much less likely to develop influenza in their first six months of life, so they benefit too.

The media attention and concern generated by the so-called “swine flu epidemic” of 2009 influenza A (H1N1) provided one huge benefit—it made people more aware of the real risks of influenza. People got sick and died of that flu, and the epidemic helped reset providers’ and patients’ assessments of the risks and benefits of seasonal flu vaccination, especially among pregnant women.

It seems that women, especially expectant moms, are hearing the message. In a survey of nearly 1,700 pregnant women done by the CDC in early 2012,nearly half (47 percent) reported getting their flu shots, up from less than 30 percent four years ago.

So go out and get your flu shot. Do it now before flu season is in full swing. And tell your pregnant sister-in-law or co-worker to get hers, too. Just do it.

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Siobhan Dolan, M.D., M.P.H.

Siobhan Dolan, M.D., M.P.H.

Siobhan M. Dolan, M.D., M.P.H. is associate professor of clinical obstetrics & gynecology and women's health, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women's Health (Reproductive Genetics) at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and attending physician, Reproductive Genetics, Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women's Health, Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Dolan is also the author of Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby: The Ultimate Pregnancy Guide, which will be published by HarperOne in January, 2013

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