Melissa, pregnant for the first time, live chatted with MotherToBaby through our website: “Hi, I’m 29 weeks pregnant and wondering about vaccines. I have seen so many different things online and I am worried about getting really sick while I’m pregnant. Can you help?”
Melissa is not alone. Many people contact MotherToBaby to find the most up-to-date information about vaccines during pregnancy. Protecting yourself from circulating viruses can also help protect your developing baby. Infections such as influenza, pertussis, rubella, chicken pox, and COVID-19 can cause serious problems in both a pregnant person and their developing baby. In light of August being National Immunization Awareness Month (NAIM), let’s navigate through the current recommendations.
Plan to Receive Some Vaccines Prior to Pregnancy
You may have heard there are some vaccines you should not receive during pregnancy. These “live” vaccines are avoided as they are made from viruses or bacteria that have been weakened, but not killed. Due to the small chance that a live vaccine might cause the disease itself, live vaccines are not routinely given to pregnant people.
So how can you protect yourself and your developing baby from viruses like measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox (varicella) if it is not recommended (also known as contraindicated) to receive the vaccine during pregnancy? Your healthcare provider can take your titers (lab test that measures the antibody levels in the blood) before pregnancy to make sure you have enough antibodies to help protect yourself from these infections during pregnancy. Low titer levels? You can safely receive the necessary live vaccines needed before that positive pregnancy test! Out of an abundance of caution (small possibility of that infection) it is advised to wait at least one month before becoming pregnant after these vaccines. This is just one reason why it is beneficial to have a pre-pregnancy health checkup and to discuss any future conception plans with your provider!
Keep Up with Recommended Vaccines During Pregnancy and Encourage Others to Do So, Too
So, which vaccines should you receive during pregnancy?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend all people who are pregnant receive the influenza vaccine each year and a Tdap (tetanus diphtheria pertussis) vaccine for each pregnancy, and the most up-to-date COVID vaccine when you are due. These vaccines are not live vaccines and have not been associated with an increased chance for birth defects or pregnancy complications. An exception would be the live attenuated Influenza vaccine which is intranasal (given through the nose).
The flu vaccine usually becomes available in September and is offered throughout flu season. CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine by the end of October despite flu seasons varying in their timing from season to season. This timing helps protect a pregnant woman before flu activity begins to increase. Protection begins about two weeks after you get the flu shot and lasts at least six to eight months. It is necessary to receive the seasonal flu shot each year to be protected in the current flu season. Getting vaccinated during your pregnancy may also help protect your baby from getting sick during the first 6 months of life! This is especially important because infants less than 6 months of age cannot receive the flu vaccine.
“I just had a Tdap vaccine a couple years ago – so I don’t need another one, right?” Melissa asked a very common question we receive regarding the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy. Although this vaccine is recommended for adults every 10 years, for people who are pregnant, receiving the shot in the 3rd trimester (specifically 27-36 weeks gestation) can help the baby get as many of the mother’s antibodies as possible. After delivery, these antibodies provide some protection against pertussis (a very contagious respiratory infection) until the baby can receive his/her own dTAP vaccine (at 2 months of age). Additionally, if everyone who lives with you and any caregivers get the vaccine, it can lower the chance for the baby to get pertussis.
It is well known that pregnant people are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 compared to those who are not pregnant. This is why is so important to receive your COVID-19 vaccinations when you are due, anytime during pregnancy, for the best protection against severe illness. CDC recommends one updated (no longer called “booster”) Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to be up-to-date: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/stay-up-to-date.html.
Pregnant people who receive vaccines can also share their experiences with maternal health researchers, like MotherToBaby. Our studies are published in medical journals and product labels, and can help others like you when navigating vaccine decisions in pregnancy.
There are no Vaccines to Prevent Some Infections
Many people are packing their bags for a getaway during these summer months. If you are considering an upcoming vacation or babymoon, it’s important to protect yourself from viruses and infections with the appropriate vaccines for that area. Where are you headed? Check with your healthcare provider regarding any specific travel vaccines you might need. CDC recommends discussing any travel plans with your provider 4-6 weeks before your trip. Contact MotherToBaby to check the information on any vaccines your healthcare provider recommends.
Zika is a virus that is usually spread by mosquitos. Being infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy is known to increase the risk for serious and lifelong problems for the baby. While there are no current outbreaks of the Zika virus, it can still be circulating in some levels in many countries and there is no vaccine or treatment currently for Zika! The safest approach during pregnancy would be to not travel to areas with any possible level of risk; should you choose to travel, it’s important to protect yourself using the recommended insect repellents among other ways to help reduce risk.
Although masks are no longer required in most public areas, this is still a great way to reduce the risk for infections and illness while around others! Good hand washing, good ventilation, air conditioning, staying outdoors as much as possible, etc. can also be considered.
After chatting with Melissa, she decided to make her appointment for her COVID-19 and Tdap vaccines (you can get them at the same time!) and will go in ASAP when the flu vaccine for this season is available. She felt reassured knowing she had decided to give herself and her developing baby the best protection from these illnesses as possible. “Thank you for all this info! I just want to make the best choice for me and my baby – I feel so much better.”
Do you have questions about vaccines during pregnancy? Call, chat, text, or email MotherToBaby!