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 October 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 6 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.
Common Questions About Flu Shots
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.
The alternative, a nasal mist, contains a live virus that has been weakened. Because of that, there is a theoretical risk of transmission of the flu to the patient or the baby. A theoretical risk means it is possible, but there have been no documented cases of it happening.
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.
This year, patients have started asking a third question:
I’ve heard the flu shot isn’t working – do I really need it?
Yes, all pregnant women should still get a flu shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some people have caught a strain of the flu that is not controlled by this year’s flu vaccine. However, getting a flu shot is still recommended since it protects against other flu strains that we also are seeing during this flu season.
Avoid the Flu
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.
If you develop symptoms of the flu (fever, muscle aches, dry cough) alert your doctor immediately. Medication can reduce the severity of your illness. It also can be taken if you have had close contact with someone who has been or is being treated for the flu. For the medication to be effective, though, you need to start taking it within 48 hours of contact.
No flu vaccine is 100-percent protective. And it’s impossible to predict how widespread and how severe each flu season will be. But by getting a flu shot, you are ensuring you have the best protection possible for yourself and your baby.