A recent study in the September 2012 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology took a look at the seasonal flu vaccine, recognizing that many women are concerned (check out our forum posts about it, here and here) about introducing any drugs or vaccinations during pregnancy.
During the 5-year study period, over 10,000 women received the seasonal influenza vaccine while they were pregnant, a few during the first trimester, but most of them during the second and third trimesters. The babies born to those mothers who got vaccinated in any trimester did not have an increase in major malformations. In addition, stillbirth or neonatal death, as well as premature delivery were significantly decreased in the vaccinated group. Although this study corroborates other similar research and further supports CDC reports, one of its newer findings is that getting vaccinated in the first trimester was not associated with an increase in major malformation rates and was associated with a decrease in the overall stillbirth rate.
Further, the flu vaccine will also provide some secondary passive immunity (antibody transfer to the baby) to the newborn during a very vulnerable time, especially important if they are babies from preeclampsia-complicated pregnancies since that often means prematurity or growth restriction. Pregnant women who get the flu shot pass their immunity to their babies in the form of flu antibodies. Influenza protection was seen in newborns up to four months old. Babies born to women who were not vaccinated during pregnancy showed no antibody protection.
When the "swine flu" and its associated vaccine first made news several years ago, we researched the issue and reported that the H1N1 vaccine, as it was more accurately labeled, was safe and in fact recommended for pregnant women as a protection against that dangerous virus. Fortunately, that version of the flu has pretty much come and gone for now.
However, another disease that is very dangerous to new babies is whooping cough. While it may result in an annoying cough to the mother, it can be lethal to newborns. Research studies have similarly supported the safety of that vaccine.
"It is much better to get vaccinated during pregnancy and have your newborn somewhat protected, before starting the usual schedule of infant immunizations," explains Dr. Tom Easterling, Director of the Foundation's Medical Advisory Board and a Maternal-Fetal Medicine physician at the University of Washington.
What does all that mean for you? It's flu season and unless you live in a plastic bubble, you should get yourself inoculated against the seasonal flu and whooping cough, even if you're pregnant. It has no bearing on whether or not you will develop preeclampsia. Most local pharmacies offer the vaccines for very a low fee; your doctor's office or local clinic often provide easy-to-schedule nurse appointments; and public health departments provide them at no cost for qualified individuals. More information including where you can get the flu shot and who's most vulnerable can be found here.