By Dr. Carol Baker, vaccine and pediatric infectious disease specialist
As we prepare for cold and influenza (flu) season, which typically begins in late November or early December, getting a flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. But what if you are pregnant? Should you still get vaccinated?
The answer is simple: YES. Pregnant women should get vaccinated against the flu.
Pregnant women, especially in the second and third trimester, are more likely to have complications from flu, rarely even death. In fact, the flu can lead to serious problems for an unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery. Getting vaccinated protects against these bad outcomes and also protects the baby against flu until the baby first can be vaccinated at age six months.
The best way to protect yourself and your unborn child from influenza is to get vaccinated. And it’s important to remember that pregnant women should only get the flu shot, not the nasal spray, known as FluMist. (FluMist contains live virus and should not be given to pregnant women because it may not be safe.) The flu shot is available at most doctors’ offices and all local pharmacies.
It takes up to two weeks for inactivated influenza vaccine to become fully effective. So the best time to get this vaccine is as soon as it is available. Even a late vaccination can be beneficial because the flu season can last through March and April.
According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to six months after they are born. One study showed that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92 percent effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu.
As a pediatric infectious disease specialist and executive director of the Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research at Texas Children’s Hospital, I am dedicated to finding the best ways to stop children and their parents from getting preventable diseases. I know the dangers the flu can pose to pregnant women and their unborn children. So I urge you to disregard the myths and misperceptions that often circulate about the flu vaccine. The flu shot cannot cause a person to develop influenza because the virus in the vaccine has been killed.
During the 2013-14 flu season, about half of pregnant women protected themselves and their babies from flu by getting a flu shot. This is a significant progress. But almost half of pregnant women and their babies still remain unprotected from influenza. As I noted above, the flu shot is the single best way protect yourself and your family from the flu. Make sure to protect yourself and your baby – get vaccinated.