This year you may have heard that the flu has been especially bad. Hospitalization and death rates are on the rise. When you are trying to become pregnant serious illness can seriously hinder your plans. If you are pregnant, getting the flu can be very dangerous. What can you do? Get the flu shot! Even if you got the flu vaccine last year, you need to get it again this year. The flu shot only protects you for that flu season. I’ve listed 6 reasons to get your flu vaccine this year.
#1 The Flu Vaccine is Completely Safe
There are many studies looking at the risks of the flu vaccine and all of these studies have found absolutely no risks from the flu vaccine. This includes several studies that found no risk of adverse fetal outcomes in pregnant women who received the flu vaccine.
Another study evaluated the relationship between vaccination status and the risk of miscarriage. That study found that vaccination did not increase a woman’s risk of miscarriage.
A study published in 2013 found that women who were vaccinated did not have an increased risk of obstetrical complications, such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes.
The most common side effects pregnant women experience are the same side effects any adult experiences. These side effects include:
- Pain or tenderness at the site of vaccination.
- Muscle aches
- Low-grade fever
It is important to note that activation of the body’s immune system causes these symptoms. Activation of the immune system is how the body creates immunity (protection) from the flu. This is not a case of the flu.
#2 You Cannot Get the Flu from the Flu Shot
The flu vaccine approved for pregnant women is the inactivated flu. The inactivated virus cannot cause the flu. Some people swear that the flu shot gave them the flu and that is just not possible.
It is possible you were infected with a strain of the flu that the vaccine did not cover. This is possible every year. The flu vaccine only protects against the strains that the CDC predicts will be the most common in the upcoming year. So there are always strains of the flu the vaccine doesn’t cover. It is possible that after vaccination you were infected with the flu. However I can assure you that your vaccination did not cause your case of the flu.
The second possibility is that you did not in fact get the flu. You may have experienced a reaction to the flu vaccine. After vaccination your body will respond to the vaccine by activating your immune system to produce antibodies that remember what the flu virus looks like. This way if you are exposed to the flu at a later date, the antibodies can destroy the flu virus before your body becomes infected. The activation of your immune system can cause you to feel a little under the weather. The response will not be nearly as severe as the flu, but it can cause fatigue, nausea, headache and muscle aches. Some people think this response is the flu, when in fact it is not.
#3 The Flu Shot Will Protect you From Getting Sick while Pregnant
The primary reason you should get the flu shot is to protect you from becoming infected with the flu while you are pregnant.
The flu is more severe in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women. Pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized for the flu than non-pregnant women.
In pregnancy your immune system is already weakened. This provides an opportunity for a normally harmless infection, such as the flu (influenza) to become serious. Your body is already working in overdrive. You blood volume is increased which means your heart has to work harder to pump your blood through your body as well as through your placenta and into your baby’s body. This increases your energy expenditure, leaving little energy left to fight off infections, such as influenza (the flu).
It is important to note that having the flu puts your baby at risk. The flu often results in a fever, which is more likely to lead to neural tube defects and other adverse fetal outcomes. The flu also increases the likelihood of preterm birth, low birth weight and stillbirth.
#4 The Flu Vaccine Will Protect Your Baby from Getting the Flu
A huge advantage of receiving the flu vaccine during pregnancy is that you can pass your immunity onto your baby. When your baby is born, his or her immune system is weak and immature. However if you receive the flu vaccine during pregnancy you are able to pass that immunity onto your baby and your baby will be protected against the flu.
Newborn babies cannot receive the flu shot until they are 6 months old due to their immature immune systems. So by passing your immunity onto your baby you are protecting him or her until he or she is old enough to be vaccinated. One study from 2010 evaluated the effect of maternal flu vaccination on infant flu status. This study found that the flu vaccine was 91.5% effective at protecting infants <6 months from the flu that would lead to hospitalization.
#5 If you Do Get the flu, Your illness Will Not be as Bad.
When you get vaccinated you are showing your body what the flu looks like, so your body can be prepared to fight it off quickly if attacked. Hopefully the flu shot will protect you from infection at all. But even in the cases where vaccinated people got the flu, the flu wasn’t as bad.
If you do get the flu and you received the flu shot this year, your illness will be shorter and less severe.
A recent study published in October 2017 found that vaccinated adults with the flu had less serious cases of the flu compared to unvaccinated adults. Vaccinated adults were 2 to 5 times less likely to die from the flu. Vaccinated adults were less likely to need an ICU admission and were more likely to be discharged home faster than unvaccinated adults.
All of these parameters show that flu vaccination can help someone infected with the flu recover faster. Serious cases of the flu can put you at risk of needing additional treatments, medications and put you at risk of suffering from complications, such as dehydration. These complications can be significant when you are pregnant.
#6 It’s Not too Late
As long as it is still flu season, it is not too late. If you refused the flu vaccine at a prior doctor’s visit you can always change your mind. In fact the flu season has been so bad this year that the CDC has recently urged anyone over 6 months of age to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The recommendation is to get the flu vaccine by the end of October. However, the CDC has stated that late vaccination continues to be beneficial even into January and beyond. Flu activity typically peaks between December and February and can last as late as May. It is not too late to change your mind to protect yourself and your baby.
What Else Can You Do To Protect Yourself From the Flu?
If you have symptoms of the flu, whether or not you received the flu vaccine, you should see a medical provider right away. If a medical provider diagnoses the flu early, he or she can prescribe you an antiviral medication (such as Tamiflu). Antiviral medications help reduce the severity and duration of illness. This is especially important if you are ttc or pregnant.
Once you do become pregnant, you should encourage everyone who will be in close contact with your baby to get the flu vaccine. Since your baby cannot receive the flu vaccine for the first 6 months of life, it is important to make sure those around your baby will not be sick. In young infants, the flu can be very serious and can lead to death. Encourage your partner, any young siblings (older than 6 months of age) and anyone else in the household, such as babysitters and grandparents to get their annual flu vaccine.
The Future Is Promising
At Oxford University in the United Kingdom, researchers are currently testing a new flu vaccine that could potentially protect against all strains of the flu. This 2 year clinical trial plans to administer the flu vaccine to 2,000 patients to study its effects on the flu. If successful, this flu vaccine could dramatically decrease the incidents of the flu.
For information about Zika Virus and pregnancy, check out my article Zika & Pregnancy: Is it Still a Concern?