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Flu Vaccine Safe Throughout Pregnancy

Studies Also Show Vaccinated Moms Less Likely to Have Small or Premature Babies

Vaccination and Premature Babies

A second study, led by Saad Omer, MD, PhD, of Emory University in Atlanta, showed that vaccination in pregnancy lowers the chance of having a low birth weight or premature baby.

Omer and colleagues looked at the medical records of more than 6,400 babies in Georgia from June 2004 through September 2006. About 15% of their moms got a flu shot during pregnancy. Results showed that during periods of widespread flu activity, vaccinated women were 60%-70% less likely to have an infant small for his or her gestational age or have a premature baby.

In a third study, vaccinated mothers in Bangladesh gave birth to babies who were 1.5 pounds heavier, on average, than those born to unvaccinated women.

Previous findings from the study showed that infants born to vaccinated women were 63% less likely to get the flu and 29% less likely to have a respiratory ailment accompanied by fever. The vaccinated moms were also less likely to get sick themselves, says researcher Mark Steinhoff, MD, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

"When you prevent flu in a pregnant woman, you benefit the mother, you benefit the infant, and we think this also shows that you benefit the fetus,” Steinhoff tells WebMD.

Vaccine Safe in Pregnancy

The experts say there a variety of reasons pregnant women don't get vaccinated. In many cases, their ob-gyns don't offer it, Schaffner says. Also, mothers have a long tradition of not taking anything they fear will harm their fetus and without reassurance, they may fear the vaccine is harmful, he says.

Not only does the new research suggest the opposite, Schaffner says, but a fourth study shows inactivated flu vaccine can be safely given during any trimester of pregnancy.

Researchers reviewed 11 studies of flu vaccination during pregnancy, as well as CDC data about disease and death from flu infection. Seven of the studies involved women in their third trimester.

The pooled analysis, which is published online in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, notes that no study has shown an increased risk of maternal or fetal complications associated with the inactivated flu vaccine shot.

Also, CDC data show that in spring 2009, 32% of 34 pregnant women with confirmed or probable cases of H1N1 had to be hospitalized, and pregnant women accounted for 13% of all deaths from H1N1 during that time, says Omer, who worked on the study.

During the 1918 pandemic, half of infected pregnant women developed pneumonia, and of these, almost half died. The highest death rates were seen in the third trimester.

One study shows that healthy pregnant women are 18 times more likely to be hospitalized from flu than their counterparts who aren't pregnant. And pregnant women with other medical problems are at even greater risk.

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