Flu shots for two: Protect yourself during pregnancy and your baby after birth
(BPT) – The phrase “two for one” suggests a great deal: getting twice the benefit. That’s precisely what a flu shot can do for someone who is pregnant. One shot protects you from flu during and after your pregnancy; it also protects your baby during the first few months of their life, when they are too young to get vaccinated. No matter how far along you are in your pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all pregnant people get a flu shot. Ideally, you should get vaccinated against flu by the end of October, but vaccination in November and later is still recommended, as flu most commonly peaks in February and significant activity can continue into May.
“One of the best gifts you can give yourself and your baby during pregnancy is an annual flu shot,” Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer with CDC’s Influenza Division, said. “Flu is especially dangerous for pregnant women because changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy (and up to two weeks postpartum) make you more vulnerable to flu and its potentially severe complications.”
Both CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that pregnant women or those who might be pregnant or postpartum during flu season get a flu shot.
Pregnant women, if they get flu, have more than double the risk of hospitalization compared to nonpregnant women of childbearing age. Research since 2010 shows that of women ages 15 to 44 years who were hospitalized with flu, 24% to 34% were pregnant, even though only approximately 9% of U.S. women in this age group are pregnant at any given time each year. Additionally, a 2018 study showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40%.
It’s important to remember flu vaccines are the only vaccines designed to protect against flu. Vaccinating pregnant people against flu reduces their risk for flu illness while pregnant and postpartum. Getting vaccinated during pregnancy also passes protective antibodies to the baby through the placenta.
Symptoms of flu during pregnancy also may be harmful for a developing baby. For example, a common flu symptom is fever, which may be associated with neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes for a developing baby. And after birth, flu can be deadly to babies, especially during their first few months of life when they are too young to get vaccinated themselves.
Last season, CDC estimates that about 55% of pregnant women got a flu shot, which is similar to coverage the prior season. Survey data show that of pregnant people who are reluctant to get a flu shot, safety is a big concern.
“Flu vaccines have been given to millions of pregnant women for more than 50 years now with an excellent safety record among both the pregnant women and the developing baby,” Jhung said. “Providers can increase vaccination coverage among pregnant women by explaining the safety and benefits of maternal vaccination. There are many precautions that pregnant women take to protect their baby. Getting a flu vaccine for the same reason makes good sense.”
Jhung concludes, “Now is a great time for pregnant people to get a flu shot to protect themselves and their babies this fall and winter. The bottom line is that a flu shot can be lifesaving, and we want pregnant women to know and act on that information.”