Improving maternal vaccination rates saves lives.
The third trimester. She counts down the days until her little one arrives. At her 32-week prenatal appointment, the Obgyn throws her a curveball. The doctor recommends the Tdap vaccine and a flu shot. Pregnancy places her at high risk, and the vaccines will pass protective immunity to her baby. But her family and Facebook Mom’s group adamantly oppose vaccination.
What should she do?
Every year, Influenza and Pertussis (Whooping cough) cause significant harm to pregnant women and their babies. The CDC recommends all pregnant women receive an annual flu shot and a pertussis vaccine (Tdap) during each pregnancy. Vaccinating pregnant women with the influenza vaccine and Tdap protects moms and their babies.
Both influenza and Tdap vaccines reduce the risk to pregnant women protect babies who are too young to get vaccinated. These vaccines transfer antibodies through the placenta from the mom to baby proving protection until they are old enough to receive their own vaccinations.
The CDC analyzed eight years of surveillance data (2010–2018) to determine influenza and pertussis’s impact on pregnant women and their babies. The MMWR Burden and Prevention of Influenza and Pertussis Among Pregnant Women and Infants evaluated 2097 pregnant women and infants in an internet survey published in October 2019.
The survey outlines the significant danger of influenza and pertussis and tracks the vaccination rates of both vaccine-preventable diseases. Only half of the pregnant women receive one of the vaccines, and only one-third of pregnant women receive both vaccines.
Improving these vaccination rates saves lives.
Impact of season flu on pregnant women
Influenza is a common seasonal respiratory viral infection. The virus spreads via respiratory droplets from person-to-person. Droplets spread through coughing, sneezing, and breathing. Particles get on our clothes and hands. We then pass the virus through handshakes, hugging, kissing, and other close human contacts.
Pregnant women are not at an increased risk of catching the flu, but physiological changes of pregnancy place women at an increased risk of serious, adverse complications.
Pregnant women have a suppressed immune system and changes in their lung function. These changes put pregnant women at a higher risk of respiratory problems when they contract viruses. For this reason, pregnant women are considered an at-risk group for respiratory compromise if they contract influenza. Women who catch the flu are 2.4 times more likely to end up requiring hospitalization.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends all pregnant women receive an annual flu shot regardless of gestational age. Influenza vaccination is critically important to preventing infection. The best prevention is the flu shot. If you have not received your annual flu vaccine, you should do so now.
The CDC states that flu shots reduce the risk of influenza-associated hospitalization by an average of 40%.
The MMWR data from 2010–1018 show pregnant women accounted for approximately one-third of all influenza-associated hospitalizations.
Key highlights from the MMWR report showed:
- 2,341 pregnant women were hospitalized for influenza.
- Pregnant women account for one-third of reported influenza-associated hospitalizations each year.
- Only 53.7% of pregnant women received a flu shot.
- Influenza vaccination rates improved to 65.7% when the patients’ healthcare provider offered the office vaccine.
Impact of seasonal flu on infants
Influenza is also dangerous for babies. The MMWR data demonstrated infants less than six months old who have influenza are hospitalized more often and have the highest risk of death. One hundred infants under the age of six months died from a laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated illness.
While the majority of influenza-infected children recover after about seven days, some children suffer serious adverse effects. Complications such as pneumonia and sepsis can be life-threatening. Influenza can also invade the tissues of the heart, causing a dangerous condition called myocarditis. Neurologic complications from influenza range from febrile seizures to viral infections of the brain called encephalopathy.
The best way to protect infants from the flu is to vaccinate the adults who will be around the baby and for mom to get vaccinated during pregnancy. Giving pregnant women a flu shot reduces the risk of infant influenza-associated hospitalization by an average of 72%.
The crossover antibodies help protect the infant until they are old enough to get their own flu vaccine. Children qualify for seasonal flu shots after six months of age.