Winter months are fast-approaching, and as the numbers of positive COVID cases climb, so does a sense of urgency around getting a flu vaccination. The concept of a “twindemic” in West Texas and across the country makes medical experts uneasy as the world anticipates the coming season.
For those who are expecting, it is natural to question the safety of medications, activities or even foods and drinks. Future parents and medical experts alike seek out what’s best for the baby during pregnancy. Because of this inevitable sense of caution, questions surrounding the safety of the flu vaccine come up every year, regardless of the current pandemic.
Fortunately, there is a reassuring answer to this question for pregnant women. According to Edward Yeomans, M.D., chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Texas Tech Physicians, not only is it safe for pregnant individuals to get a flu vaccination, it actually helps protect the baby.
“For the first six months of life, the influenza vaccine is not effective,” said Yeomans, “so the only way to protect the infant is for the mother to be vaccinated.”
Additionally, Yeomans clarified that there are no birth defects or other adverse maternal or fetal consequences recognized with the vaccine, and that there are no serious side effects--no matter what trimester of pregnancy. This means that the flu vaccine is just as effective and safe for pregnant women as it is for others.
Part of the reason pregnant women are often concerned about risks surrounding the flu shot is due to a rumor that it can result in a higher risk of miscarriage. However, a recent large study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that there is no evidence to support the rumor. Covering three flu seasons (2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15), the study found no increased risk for miscarriage, including in early stages of pregnancy.
Pregnancy lowers the activity of the immune system, which is what places pregnant women in the high-risk category when it comes to both the flu and COVID-19. Since pregnant women are considered a vulnerable group, Yeomans explained that getting a flu shot is particularly important for soon-to-be mothers.
“Pregnant women are a particularly vulnerable group,” said Yeomans. “They're subject to a higher incidence of pneumonia, hospitalization, intensive care, unit admission and even adverse consequences for mom and baby.”
Especially during this pandemic, feeling flu-like symptoms can be frightening. While receiving a flu shot is the most efficient way for pregnant women to protect themselves against the flu, common hygienic behaviors such as regularly washing your hands, eating well and getting enough sleep can also help pregnant women make it through the illnesses of these winter months. If you think you might be sick, talk to your doctor right away about the best treatment for the flu to prevent any serious complications.
For more information about this year’s flu vaccine, visit TTUHSC’s flu page.