The flu shot has proven to be very safe for pregnant women and will bring protection to the unborn baby for the first six months of the child’s life, concludes a major new Ottawa study in July 2019.
Many pregnant women avoid the flu shot largely due to concerns over the perceived safety risks and possible effects on their unborn children.
This large study, published in the BMJ, monitored disease and hospitalisation rates of 104,249 children born in Ontario between November 2009 and October 2010 — during the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic, and tracked their health outcomes until they were five years old.
The researchers wanted to see if the mother’s vaccination played a role in the health of the children during the first five years of their lives.
The findings showed that 31,295 children born to mothers who received the flu vaccine were just as healthy as the 79,954 children born to mothers who didn’t take it.
There were no increased risks of cancer, infections, chronic diseases, hospital admissions or death during the first five years of the lives in those children whose mothers received the flu vaccine.
“This study clearly shows that influenza vaccination during pregnancy is — by all available evidence — safe for mothers and their offspring, even in the longer-term health of their children,” said study co-author Dr Deshayne Fell, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa and a scientist with the CHEO Research Institute.
Pregnant women and babies are particularly vulnerable to more serious illness if they get the flu— and they’re a high-risk group. (A 2014 study, for example, found that pregnant women have a very strong immune reaction to the flu.)
“This is really important as receiving the flu shot while pregnant reduces the women’s chance of getting the flu. Adding on to the benefits, the antibodies from the flu vaccine are transferred to the baby, thus preventing influenza in babies in the first few months of their life when they’re particularly vulnerable but can’t be vaccinated,” explained Dr Fell.
The big thing here is conferring protection — passive immunity — which means protecting the babies. Health statistics show that babies under 6 months old have the highest risk of dying from flu-related illness when an infant’s immune system is still being developed, according to a study published in Pediatrics.
Infants cannot be vaccinated until after they’re 6 months old.
On their website, the CDC suggests pregnant women get the flu shot before or during pregnancy, depending on whether it’s flu season or not, but says some vaccines, like the measles, mumps and rubella, should be given a month or more before pregnancy.
“I think it adds to the evidence, which has been growing rapidly in the last five years, should be very reassuring to many pregnant women deciding to get the flu shot – leading to more pregnant woman saying yes to the flu shot,” Dr Fell wrote.