By Beth Conover, APRN, CGC MotherToBaby Nebraska, UNMC

“I just found out I am pregnant.  I’ve heard that it is really important to get the flu shot this fall, but is it still OK now that I am pregnant?”  The woman on the other end of the phone line sounded cautious and concerned.  I told her, “I’m so glad you called to ask about this.  The influenza vaccination may be even more important for pregnant women.  The coronavirus pandemic has given us a lot to worry about without adding influenza infections to the mix.  Let me tell you more about this….”

Once we are into influenza season (October to March), pregnant women are strongly recommended to get immunized, regardless of where they are in their pregnancy. Yet, many women delay, and in the end only about 50% of pregnant women get their flu shot.

An influenza infection itself can cause severe illness and even death in pregnant and post-partum women.  It is important to remember that a healthy mother is more likely to have a healthy baby!  The injectable version of the influenza immunization (“flu shot“) contains an inactivated (dead) virus and is not going to make you or your baby sick.  It is the most effective way to prevent influenza or have less severe symptoms if you do get the flu.  Currently, the nasal-spray flu vaccination is not recommended for pregnant women because it contains live attenuated virus.

Some pregnant women are worried about whether immunizations will harm their baby.  The scares about vaccines being associated with problems like autism have been shown not to be true.   In fact, just last month a large study was published in the journal Pediatrics, “Early Childhood Health Outcomes Following In-Utero Exposure to Influenza Vaccines: A Systemic Review.”  This study compiled results from 9 earlier studies and found no association between exposure to the flu vaccine during pregnancy and adverse outcomes in children.  One of the authors was later quoted as saying, “This should be reassuring for pregnant women who may be considering the vaccination…”

Are you interested in learning more about vaccinations in pregnancy or while breastfeeding?  Visit the MotherToBaby website and read all of our vaccine-related fact sheets.  There is a general fact sheet on all vaccines, and then specific fact sheets on the seasonal influenza vaccine and also many others like the Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (Tdap), Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR), HPV (human papillomavirus), hepatitis A, and varicella (chicken pox) vaccinations.

 

Beth Conover, APRN, CGC, is a genetic counselor and pediatric nurse practitioner. She established the Nebraska Teratogen Information Service in 1986, also known as MotherToBaby Nebraska. She was also a founding board member of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS). In her clinical practice, Beth sees patients in General Genetics Clinic, Prenatal Clinic, and the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Clinic at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Beth has provided consultation to the FDA and CDC.

About MotherToBaby

MotherToBabyis a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), suggested resources by many agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have questions about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, please call MotherToBaby toll-FREE at 866-626-6847 or try out MotherToBaby’s new text information service by texting questions to (855) 999-3525. You can also visit MotherToBaby.org to browse a library of fact sheets about dozens of viruses, medications, vaccines, alcohol, diseases, or other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding or connect with all of our resources by downloading the MotherToBaby free app, available on Android and iOS markets. Don’t forget to listen to The MotherToBaby Podcast, available on iTunes, Google Play Music and anywhere you listen to podcasts.

References:

Early Childhood Health Outcomes Following In Utero Exposure to Influenza Vaccines: A Systematic Review

Damien Y.P. Foo, Mohinder Sarna, Gavin Pereira, Hannah C. Moore, Deshayne B. Fell, Annette K. Regan

Pediatrics Aug 2020, 146 (2) e20200375; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2020-0375