All women who are pregnant should get a flu shot, regardless of how far along they are in their pregnancies.
Flu season generally lasts from Oct. 1 through March 31. But because the exact timing of the flu season varies from year to year, we encourage our patients to get a flu shot as early as possible.
There are several reasons pregnant women should get the flu shot, including:
- The flu shot protects you and your baby against several of the most common viruses that make people sick every year.
- Pregnant women are at an increased risk of complications from influenza, including pre-term labor and even death.
- Babies rely on maternal antibodies for the first six months of life and cannot receive the flu vaccine during that time period. If the mother has not had the flu vaccine, the baby will be more susceptible to the virus.
My patients typically ask two questions about flu shots:
What kind of flu vaccine should I get?
We recommend you get a flu shot. The shot offers protection from the flu in the form of an inactivated vaccine. It does not contain a live virus.
(UPDATED: June 12, 2016)
In June 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended discontinuing the flu mist nasal spray because it is ineffective. This was a popular alternative for people who didn’t like to get a shot. But a moment of pain is worth the potential problems that the flu can cause for you and your baby.
Are flu shots containing thimerosal safe?
Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that is often found in vaccines. It's used because it is more cost-effective to manufacture vaccines in bigger bottles. The bottles serve more people but may sit open for a period of time, so those vaccines contain a preservative to prevent contamination.
A lot of attention has been paid to a possible link between thimerosal and autism spectrum disorders. All the research on this topic has found no increased risk with the use of thimerosal-containing vaccines and long-term brain development.
Thimerosal-free individual pack vaccines are made, and we recommend those to our pregnant patients. If you have concerns, ask your doctor how you can get a thimerosal-free vaccine.
While the flu may not seem that dangerous, it can have serious impacts if you are pregnant. During the H1N1 flu outbreak in the United States in 2009, hundreds of women got the flu. Many spent time in Intensive Care Units, and some lost their lives or lost their babies.
No flu vaccine is 100 percent protective. And it’s impossible to predict how widespread and how severe the coming flu season will be. But by getting a flu shot, you are ensuring you have the best protection possible for yourself and your baby.