The Flu Vaccine: Why Vaccination is Important for You, Your Baby and Your Family
By Sashana Gordon, MD
Obstetrics & Gynecology
TriHealth Women’s Services Rookwood
Jasmine is a 22-year-old expecting mom in the first trimester of her second pregnancy. She enters our office at TriHealth Women’s Services Rookwood with a big smile, commenting on the end of summer temperatures and looking forward to changing of the leaves and beautiful fall colors. As I walked her to the exam room, her excitement for fall reminded me of an important upcoming season, the Flu season. It’s October! I better remember to discuss the Influenza vaccine with her today. As I sit with Jasmine to talk about her pregnancy, I bring up the flu vaccine and like many patients, she is apprehensive. I started by asking her to tell me about her fears surround receiving the flu vaccine.
“Well, I heard that the vaccine makes you sick and I don’t want to put a live virus into my body and harm my baby,” Jasmine tells me.
“That’s a very important concern Jasmine,” I reply. “And as OBGYNs, our main goal is to take good care of both of our patients, you and your baby.”
Jasmine’s concerns about the influenza vaccine are shared by many pregnant women. The annual flu vaccine is a very important discussion to have with all our patients, especially those who are pregnant, want to become pregnant or who are in the postpartum period. Influenza virus occurs in distinct outbreaks and vary in severity every year. Influenza A in particular has a remarkable ability to undergo changes to continually infect human beings. Each year the makeup of the virus changes and as a result the Influenza vaccine is created in anticipation of preventing infection with the current strain of the virus and as a result the Influenza vaccine is recommended annually.
The flu season usually lasts from October to May and ideally the goal is that all women would be vaccinated before the end of October, but for those who don’t have one by then, the vaccination is still encouraged until the flu season ends. The Influenza vaccine given to pregnant women is actually an inactivated virus and not a live virus; and is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology to be given in any trimester of pregnancy.
There have been numerous research studies performed that demonstrate the safety of the Influenza vaccine in pregnancy. This recommendation extends not only to pregnant women but others in close contact as well, such as the father of the baby, other children in the home or relatives who plan to be around the expecting mom and her baby. As a result, all healthcare providers, including OBGYN physicians are usually required by their employed hospital to get the Influenza vaccine as well, because it is our goal to provide a safe and healthy environment for all our patients.
Influenza, when acquired during or immediately after pregnancy is more likely to lead to pneumonia and can result in serious illnesses, including preterm delivery and maternal death. Additionally, pregnant women are at increased risk of admission to the Intensive Care Unit and at risk for poor pregnancy outcomes as a result of contracting the flu in pregnancy. Vaccination in the prenatal, antepartum or postpartum period is of utmost importance to try and prevent these complications from the Flu. In addition, another benefit of the Flu vaccine in pregnancy is that it provides passive immunity for newborns through vaccination of mom while she is pregnant. What a great way to protect your baby before they’re even born.
Individuals who have severe egg allergies that result in hives or other more severe allergic responses to eggs or prior flu vaccine usually can receive the influenza vaccine in a monitored, likely inpatient setting at a healthcare facility. The consequences of having the flu can unfortunately be deadly for some people. Therefore, if pregnant women are even exposed to someone who has the flu or develop symptoms themselves, it is sometimes recommended that they take antiviral medication called Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) without waiting on test results. This is, of course, at the discretion of their provider.
The role of the OBGYN provider is to educate the patient and answer all questions surrounding the Influenza vaccine, as a lack of understanding has contributed to the refusal of the vaccine in the past. Women are particularly vulnerable to Influenza infection and possible complications during the pre-pregnancy, prenatal and postpartum period, as a result it is pertinent that we discuss and encourage their vaccination against this very serious virus.
As I wrap up my discussion with Jasmine, she lets out a big sigh, thanks me for taking the time to help her understand and is happy to receive her Influenza vaccine at the end of her visit.
Other patients can protect themselves and the expectant mothers and children in their lives by getting flu shots of their own. Contact your doctor to get an appointment or find a location where no appointment is needed such as a TriHealth Priory Care location.
Reference: ACOG Committee Opinion Number 732. Influenza Vaccination During Pregnancy. April 2018.