The Flu Vaccine and Pregnancy

Seasonal influenza (flu) can occur year round, but its peak activity is October through May.  Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, coughing and sore throat.  If you are currently pregnant, you may be wondering whether you should get vaccinated against influenza, and the answer is “yes”.  Pregnant women can become much more ill than those who get the flu while not pregnant.  Studies show that pregnant women affected with influenza have more hospital visits and longer lengths of stay for respiratory illness.  Influenza in pregnancy can be severe enough to cause pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and even death.  Additionally, affected women have an increased risk for pregnancy complications such as preterm labor and birth.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and the American college of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that all women be given the flu vaccine every year.  The flu vaccine can be given at any time during pregnancy and can protect both you and your baby from complications of influenza.  Babies under 6 months of age cannot receive the flu vaccine; therefore, if you get the vaccine during pregnancy, the protective antibodies can cross the placenta and protect your baby after birth.

Pregnant women should get the inactivated influenza vaccine which is injected (“flu shot”).  Live vaccines such as the nasal mist should be avoided during pregnancy.  You cannot get the flu from the vaccine, though mild cold-like symptoms may occur.  However, this is much safer than being unprotected against influenza.

There are frequently questions about thimerosal, the preservative used in the flu vaccine and whether it is safe.  There is no scientific evidence to suggest that thimerosal is unsafe for pregnant women or their babies, and it is considered safe.  There are vaccines available with and without the preservative, but experts do not recommend one more than the other.

If you believe you have the flu, you should contact your obstetrician immediately and will be prescribed an antiviral medication.  It is most effective within 48 hours of onset, and can shorten the duration and decrease the severity of illness.  If you have questions about the vaccine, at NJPA, we’ll answer any questions you may have.