Flu vaccination during pregnancy

Influenza, a potentially deadly disease, is estimated to result in between 1,500 and 3,500 deaths and more than 18,000 hospitalisations every year in Australia (1). When it comes to pregnant women, the risk of hospitalisation with H1N1 influenza as compared with non-pregnant women increases five times (2).

During pregnancy, the immune system is gravely repressed, leading to increased chances of one getting the flu. Therefore, pregnant women are at greater risk of having austere complications from the virus as influenza infection increases the risk of premature birth, sub-optimal foetal growth and stillbirth. Fortunately, maternal flu vaccination offers protection against these complications (3,4,5), and pregnant women are eligible for free vaccination. Pregnant women are advised to seek the vaccination, especially if they fall under the category of more than one at-risk group.

There is no doubt regarding the safety of the influenza vaccination for pregnant women, including in the first trimester. A recent study (4) showed that the influenza vaccine is not associated with an increased risk of foetal death; instead it protects against this. A pregnant woman who has been vaccinated has a 70% reduced risk of getting influenza. The risk of foetal death is nearly doubled for women with confirmed influenza. It was found that there were 16 foetal deaths among the 2,278 pregnant women who were diagnosed with influenza. Vaccination against flu in pregnant women also protects the baby during the first vulnerable months of life.

 

Flu vaccination during pregnancy: Pregnant Women are the most vulnerable risk group

The World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group has identified pregnant women as the most important risk group for seasonal vaccination against influenza as antibodies in pregnant women are actively transported to the foetus, more so during late pregnancy (2). It is not odd to schedule vaccines during pregnancy and it also provides immunity for the unborn child6. Vaccination for pregnant women against influenza protects against well-recognised morbidity and mortality of influenza infection and maternal influenza vaccination during pregnancy is the surest way to protect young babies aged 6 months or younger as this age is when they are most susceptible to the disease but least responsive to vaccines. During pregnancy, inactivated influenza vaccination has been proven over time to be safe for the unborn child and during short- and long-term follow-up on those open to utero4.

1. Newall AT, Wood JG, MacIntyre cR. Influenza-related hospitalisation and death in Australians aged 50 years and older. Vaccine 2008; 051: 3
2. NHMRC 2008. Australian Immunisation Handbook. 9th Edition.
3. Englund J et al. Maternal immunization against viral disease. Vaccine 1998;16: 1456–63.
4. Jit et al. The cost-effectiveness of vaccinating pregnant women against seasonal influenza in England and Wales. Vaccine 2010; 29: 115–122.
5. Källén B, Olausson PO. Vaccination against H1N1 influenza with Pandemrix(®) during pregnancy and delivery outcome: a Swedish register study BJOG 2012; 119: 1583–90.
6. World Health Organisation. SAGE Meetings. 2012

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