It is flu season, and a recent report suggests that one of the highest risk groups has been neglecting to get this vital vaccine.

According to the CDC, pregnant women are more likely to develop severe illness or become hospitalized from contracting influenza. During some pandemic seasons we have seen increased hospitalizations, increased respiratory problems, and increased risk of death with the flu for pregnant women. It makes sense considering the numerous changes a pregnant woman’s body has to undergo to accommodate a growing baby. Additionally, any infection caught while pregnant doesn’t only put the mother at risk but can actually cause problems for the unborn infant.

The flu shot has been proven to reduce the likelihood of hospitalization for pregnant women by 40%, and newborns younger than 6 months by an average of 72%. Despite these facts, only about half of pregnant women age 18 to 49 reported getting a flu shot between August 2018 and April 2019. In fact, 24% to 34% of women hospitalized since 2010 between the ages of 15 and 44 were pregnant, even though only 9% of U.S. women in this age group are pregnant at any given time each year.

So, what is keeping mothers away? Traci Gonzales, pediatric nurse practitioner with Texas Children’s Hospital and spokesperson for the American Lung Association, helped debunk some of the biggest misconceptions about the pregnancy and the flu shot.

Q: Many women don’t get the flu shot because they believe it to be unsafe for their child. Is there any instance where this is the case? Is there any risk of miscarriage?
A: There has been a lot of research and investigation to ensure that flu shots are safe for pregnant women and their unborn children. Multiple studies have shown that when compared to the general public, there is no increased risk for pregnant women or their child. It actually provides quite a bit of benefit. With the flu shot, the pregnant mother will develop antibodies, which are the tools needed to fight the flu. These antibodies will cross the placenta and provide protection for the baby. It is also present in breast milk, and breastfeeding mothers can continue to give their babies protection after they are born.

Q: How effective is the flu vaccine for pregnant women and their children?
A: Effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary due to changes in the virus each year. It is important to remember that the flu shot's purpose is not only to try and prevent the flu, it is also to help prevent complications if someone does get the flu. A recent study showed that pregnant women who receive the vaccine were 50% less likely to develop respiratory illness with the flu.

Q: Are there any special side effects that pregnant women may experience from the flu shot?
A: As with any vaccine, no matter if you are pregnant or not you may develop a few symptoms. Once you receive the shot, the body will begin to make what it needs to fight the virus. While the body is doing this, you can have a low-grade fever, achiness or headache. Many people also experience some soreness in the muscle/arm that the shot was received in. However, these symptoms usually last one to two days, and are much less severe than contracting the flu.

Q: When is the best time for a pregnant woman to get the vaccine?
A: Ideally, we would like for them to have the flu shot as soon as it is available, before the virus is increasingly active in the community. However, getting it later in the flu season is better than not getting it all. The flu shot can be given in any trimester.

Q: Can pregnant women use the nasal spray instead of getting an injection?
A: No, the nasal spray is not recommended for pregnant women because it is a live vaccine. There has not been enough research to know if live vaccines are truly safe for unborn babies. The flu shot is in an inactivated form, meaning not live, and has been proven to be safe.

Q: What is the most important thing for pregnant women to keep in mind about the flu shot?
A: For pregnant women, the flu vaccine has been shown to decrease the risk of complications during pregnancy, as well as provide protection for their baby. As mothers, we strive to do everything we can to keep our children healthy and happy. The flu shot should be a regular part of that plan.

To learn more about the flu shot and find a vaccine center nearest you, visit the flu section on our website.

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