Ask A Doc: Vaccines and Pregnancy

December 12, 2016

gellasch_tara
Tara Gellasch, MD
Rochester Regional Health

Dear Doc:
I am currently 15 weeks pregnant.  At my last prenatal appointment, the provider offered me the flu vaccine.  I was surprised because I thought you should not get vaccines while you are pregnant.  I have never had the flu so I am not sure what to do.  Do you think I should get the flu vaccine now?  Is it safe for pregnant women to get vaccines? 

Dear Reader:
This question comes up every year during flu season.  It is great that you are concerned about what you are putting into your body during pregnancy.   Just as important as prenatal vitamins and a healthy diet; vaccines are a cornerstone in preventing serious illness to pregnant women and babies.  The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend two vaccines be a standard part of prenatal care.  

The first recommend vaccine is the flu vaccine.  This can be safely given during any trimester of pregnancy.  Vaccination of the mom has been shown to provide protection for the newborn baby, who is not eligible for a vaccine until six months of age.  Due to changes in their immune system, pregnant women who get the flu are at much higher risk of serious illness or death compared to non-pregnant women.  Additionally, pregnant women who get the flu are at higher risk for preterm delivery.  While you have been lucky to not get the flu in the past, we are often unaware we have been exposed to the flu until it is too late to protect ourselves.  The actual flu vaccine changes every year so it is important to keep up to date with your vaccinations. 

The second recommended vaccine is the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (tdap) vaccine.  Pertussis (whooping cough) cases have been on the rise across the US including here locally.  Infants typically contract whooping cough from caregivers including the mom. Unfortunately, newborn infants have a higher risk of hospitalization and death from whooping cough.  By getting the tdap vaccine in pregnancy, the mom reduces the risk of transmitting the disease to her baby AND the baby acquires immunity for the first few months of life.  Since the protection against whooping cough wears off relatively quickly, it is recommended that women get the tdap vaccine with each pregnancy.

Prenatal care is about trying to prevent poor outcomes for both moms and babies.  Frequent visits and regular testing help providers and patients pick up on small changes that may indicate evolving problems.  This allows us to intervene and hopefully improve the health of the baby and mom.  Vaccines are an effective and vital tool to prevent illnesses that cause serious harm and even kill.  Side effects of vaccines can include redness or soreness around the injection site.  Less common side effects include a temporary headache, muscles aches, low grade fever or nausea.  I would strongly encourage you to get your flu vaccine at your next prenatal visit and discuss when it is appropriate for you to get the tdap vaccine. Lastly, talk with your family and friends who will be helping to care for the baby.  Encourage them to make sure they are also up to date with their vaccines.

Tara Gellasch, MD, is the Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital (NWCH) and sees patients at The Women’s Center at NWCH, a Rochester General Medical Group practice.  Dr. Gellasch earned her Medical Doctorate from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Emory University. This column is meant to be educational and not intended to be used to make individual treatment decisions. Prior to starting or stopping any treatment, please confer with your own health care provider. To send questions on women’s health, please email Dr. Tara Gellasch’ s assistant, Monica Decory at Monica.Decory@rochesterregional.org and write “Ask a Doc” in the subject line. The Women’s Center at NWCH is located at 1250 Driving Park Avenue, Newark. Call (315) 332-2427 to schedule an appointment.