Washington, DC — All pregnant women, regardless of trimester, should get the influenza vaccination during the flu season, according to new recommendations issued today by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and published in the October issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology. The College emphasizes that preventing the flu during pregnancy is an essential element of prenatal care and that it is imperative that physicians, healthcare organizations, and public health officials improve their efforts to increase immunization rates among pregnant women.
Last week, the CDC, along with The College and other medical organizations, encouraged all physicians and health care providers to urge their pregnant and postpartum patients to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu.
Annual flu vaccination is crucial for pregnant women because the immune system changes during pregnancy, which results in women being at increased risk of serious complications if they get the flu. Flu vaccination performs double duty by protecting both pregnant women and their babies. Babies cannot be vaccinated against the flu until they are six months old, but they receive antibodies from their mother which help protect them until they can be vaccinated.
“The flu is a highly infectious virus and can be especially serious for the very young, those with certain medical conditions, and pregnant women,” said Richard N. Waldman, MD, president of The College. “Pregnant women were disproportionately affected by flu complications last year—some went into premature labor, some developed pneumonia, and unfortunately, some died.”
Vaccination early in the flu season is optimal, but can be given at any time during this period, regardless of the stage of pregnancy. The College advises that all women who are or become pregnant during the annual flu season (October through May) get the inactivated flu vaccine. Women can also receive the flu vaccine postpartum and while they are breastfeeding if they missed it during pregnancy. The live attenuated version of the flu vaccine (the nasal mist) should not be given to pregnant women.
According to the CDC, the seasonal flu vaccine is made the same way each year. “The only difference from year to year is that new strains of virus are used to make the vaccine based on which are predicted to be most prevalent,” said William M. Callaghan, MD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) liaison to The College’s Committee on Obstetric Practice. There have been no studies showing adverse effects of the inactivated flu vaccine for pregnant women or their children, according to The College. “Millions of pregnant women have received the flu vaccine over the past 45 years, and no studies have shown harm to them or their babies,” said Dr. Callaghan.
Despite concerns about thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines, there is no scientific evidence that it causes harm to women or their infants. The only side effect is the occasional local skin reaction at the injection site. “There are seasonal flu vaccines that don’t contain thimerosal, so people who remain concerned can ask for those,” said Dr. Callaghan.
Dr. Callaghan notes that The College’s recommendation to increase the vaccination rate among pregnant women dovetails with the CDC’s push for physicians to offer the flu vaccine to every patient age six months and older at every opportunity.
Committee Opinion #468, “Influenza Vaccination During Pregnancy,” is published in the October 2010 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 55,000 members, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care.