Pregnancy, Parenting, & the Flu Shot: What You Should Know
December 13th, 2013
by Bette Begleiter & Mazvita Nyamukapa
Maternity Care Coalition
Many of us have suffered through the flu without tragic consequences. But it is important to remember that the virus can have catastrophic complications that can result in death – especially among vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, babies, young children, the elderly, immune-compromised individuals, and those with respiratory, cardiac or neurological conditions. Since 1976, flu related deaths in the U.S. have ranged between 3,000- 49,000, depending on the type of flu that is common during a particular flu season.
Pregnant women are a particularly vulnerable population due to physiological changes that occur during pregnancy. For example, immune-suppression leaves women vulnerable to the flu and its complications. Cardiovascular and respiratory changes may also increase a pregnant woman’s susceptibility to flu.
Flu shots for pregnant women, which are safe to receive during pregnancy, not only reduce the risk of complications in the woman but also for the unborn child; antibodies the mother produces in response to the vaccine can be passed on to the child after birth and before six months when babies are too young to receive the flu vaccine. This also means that any other caregivers that babies come in contact with need to be vaccinated to ensure that they are not exposed to the flu virus.
The complications that pregnant women may experience if they catch the flu include:
- Difficulty breathing
Complications for the unborn baby include:
- Risk of genetic defects (abnormalities of the brain or spinal cord) if the mother has a fever early in the pregnancy
- Risk of premature birth or miscarriage
It’s not just babies who are at risk from flu. Older children too must be vaccinated. According to the CDC, as of March 2013, during the 2012-13 flu season 105 children died from the flu. Tragically, of these 105 fatalities, 90% had not been vaccinated. In a country were many believe in the sanctity of life, it seems ironic that many choose to not get themselves and their children vaccinated. All it takes nowadays is a family trip to your local pharmacy for vaccinations.
As for the cost of the vaccine, under the Affordable Care Act, health plans in the health insurance marketplace will be required to cover flu shots. Some cities also offer free flu shots to residents who are not currently insured by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid at community flu clinics, federally qualified health centers, and city health department district health centers. You can also check with your local health department. Additionally this season, Rite Aid Pharmacy, partnering with the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition’s free Text4baby service, provided free flu shots to 10,000 women nationally who signed up for the service (which provides pregnancy and infant health information, as well as immunization and appointment reminders).
Do the right thing. If you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, get the flu shot as soon as possible. If you are a healthcare professional, share information about the importance of the vaccine with moms-to-be. If you have a pregnant sister, wife, daughter, niece, or friend, share this link with her and be sure she receives the flu shot this season.
Photo Credit: Christopher Boswell/Shutterstock.com