Oct. 27, 2009 -- A new survey shows only about one in four pregnant women and mothers of young children plan to get the H1N1 flu vaccine this year, despite recommendations from public health groups urging them to do so.
The CDC, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and many other public health organizations strongly recommend that pregnant women and new mothers get both the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccine shots to protect themselves as well as their newborns.
The survey shows 43% of pregnant women and mothers of children younger than 2 years old plan to get a seasonal flu shot this year, up from 33% surveyed last year. But only 27% plan on getting the H1N1 flu vaccine.
Researchers say confusion and concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the H1N1 vaccine may be preventing many pregnant women from getting the additional protection they need.
A CDC analysis shows pregnant women are up to four times more likely to be hospitalized for complications from the H1N1 and other flu viruses compared to the general population. This may be due to changes in the body related to pregnancy, such as reduced lung capacity, which can make respiratory diseases more dangerous, and changes to the immune system that can make a pregnant woman more susceptible to infection.
"With H1N1 being the dominant influenza virus circulating so far this year, it is vital that all pregnant women get their seasonal and H1N1 flu shots as soon as possible," says Ashley Roman, MD, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University School of Medicine and assistant clinical professor at Yale University, in a news release.
Confusion Over H1N1 Vaccine Risk
The Harris Interactive survey of 668 pregnant women and mothers of children less than 2 years old across the U.S. shows that 86% of women believe the seasonal flu shot is safe; only 68% think the H1N1 flu vaccine is safe. The online U.S. survey was conducted between Sept. 17 and Sept. 29 among women aged 18-50 who were currently pregnant and/or had children under 2 years old.
The most common concern among the pregnant women surveyed was the belief that the H1N1 flu vaccine has not been adequately tested. But researchers say the H1N1 vaccine is made the same way as the seasonal flu shot and has been found in clinical studies to be safe and effective at producing an immune response in healthy adults.
"Both the seasonal and H1N1 flu shots are safe for women to get during any stage of pregnancy and the shots are available in thimerosal-free forms, for those who are concerned about mercury preservatives," says Roman.
Researchers also found that only half of the women knew that getting a flu shot while pregnant will protect both themselves and their newborn babies after birth.
The survey also showed that 41% of Hispanic women vs. 26% of all women believed the false claim that getting a flu shot while pregnant can put an unborn baby's health at risk. Less than half of Hispanic women were aware that the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines are recommended for pregnant women compared with 71% of women overall.
However, the survey showed Hispanic women were more likely than women overall to discuss getting H1N1 and seasonal flu shots with their health care provider.
The survey and an accompanying "Flu-Free and A Mom-to-Be: Protect Yourself, Protect Your Baby - Get Your Flu Shots!" campaign organized by HealthyWomen and the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses is supported by CSL Biotherapies, which produces flu vaccines.