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October 6th, 2008
12:44 PM ET

Pregnant women need flu shots

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Every year, we report on who should get a flu shot: the elderly; those over 50; children age 6 months to 5 years old; pregnant women; people with chronic disease.

But apparently the message isn’t getting through about pregnant women.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women who will be pregnant during the flu season, which runs from October to May, get a flu shot.

However, a new poll commissioned by the non-profit National Women's Health Resource Center found that only 25 percent were aware of these recommendations and only 20 percent agreed that getting a flu shot while pregnant is important.

The latest data from the a CDC health survey show that less than 14 percent of pregnant women between ages 18 and 44 actually got a flu shot during the 2006/2007 flu season.

Flu kills an average of 36,000 people and leads to hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations each year, according to the CDC.

An informal (and very unscientific) survey of my own found that some women weren’t aware that young women who happened to be pregnant fall in the high-risk category. Others who already had children didn’t think it was safe to get a flu shot during pregnancy.

So how bad can it be if you get the flu during or right after pregnancy? Very bad, according to mother of four Lisa Madden. Three months after giving birth to triplets, “"for the first time in my life I got the flu,” she said. “I was the sickest I ever was in my life."

She was laid up in bed for 10 days, her mother and mother-in-law had to come in to help care for the babies, and even her husband had to take off work because she was so sick.

“That was the year I learned my lesson” (about not getting a flu shot), she said. She now preaches the vaccination’s importance.

Dr. Carolyn Bridges, the CDC’s flu expert, said that complications of the flu in pregnant women can be the same as in other people - pneumonia, dehydration, hospitalization. But the flu can also lead to pre-term labor, fetal demise and worsening respiratory function.

There may be other reasons that pregnant women don’t get a flu shot. Only 51 percent of women who participated in this new poll thought it was safe to get a flu shot during pregnancy. Dr. Jeanne Santoli, deputy director of the CDC’s Immunizations Services Division, said that flu shots are safe at any time during pregnancy - during all three trimesters.

Even though ACOG and the CDC say flu shots are safe; some women are concerned about the preservative thimerosal in flu shots. If that’s the case, women can request a preservative-free flu shot. It may cost a little more.

Convenience is another thing. Although many OB-GYNs may recommend that a pregnant woman get a flu shot, they may not offer it in their practice. Having to go somewhere else may contribute to not getting one. It’s inconvenient, you forget, you just don’t get around to it.

Some women just may not be aware of how serious the complications can be for Mom or baby.

Soon-to-be first-time mom Virginia Bader is seven and a half months pregnant. She credits spending a lot of time with her elderly grandmother for being aware of those at high-risk for complications of the flu. “It occurred to me that I was in a high-risk category myself,” she said. She asked her doctor two months ago about getting a flu shot. It was too early then, but she said, “I will be getting it soon now."

“You don't have a lot of control over many things when you're pregnant; this is something you can take control of.”

Are you pregnant or have a new baby? Are you planning on getting a flu shot during this flu season?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Jenny

    I am 28 weeks pregnant, and I will definitely get a flu shot this year, and will encourage my husband to do the same so he doesn't bring it home to the baby.

    October 6, 2008 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Amy

    I never even knew you should get the flu shot if pregnant. I was thinking about getting it this year because my work offers them for free through our benifits. We are planning on get pregnant this winter, so I will definatly get it now.

    October 6, 2008 at 16:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Mary

    If you get a flu vaccination, make sure it does not have thimerosol in it. Your baby doesn't need the flu or a shot of mercury. Be knowledgeable about what you're putting into your body while you are pregnant.

    October 7, 2008 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ed

    Flu shots are all scams.

    October 7, 2008 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Rupal Khurmi

    I am a pediatrician and have seen many otherwise NORMAL babies under 6 months die from complications of the flu. It's devastating for a family. My son gets his shot on the first day it is offered in his doctor's office.

    I think we should remind people that the antibodies/immunity that the mother develops can be transfered to the newborn in utero and also through breast milk! A pregnant woman receiving this vaccine is not just protecting herself!

    Access is definitely a problem. I have several friends who have been told that they CAN'T RECEIVE the flu shot if they are pregnant after waiting in line for the shot at local pharmacies/grocery stores. I sent those friends back with a copy of the CDC recommendations and they were still refused. It doesn't make sense.

    October 7, 2008 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. GF, Los Angeles

    I agree with that Ed!

    October 7, 2008 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Arlene

    I'm 15 weeks pregnant with my second child and I just got my Flu shot yesterday. I'm Active Duty Air Force and I know that they sometimes offer the nasal flu mist- which is a live virus and pregnant women should not take that, they have inactive flu shot they give pregnant women, I got one with my first child and had no side effects whatsoever.

    October 7, 2008 at 17:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Barb

    If you are concerned about food allergies, you should think carefully before getting the flu shot. The flu shot is based in chicken egg. This means that your baby could get exposed to egg proteins which has the potential to lead to an allergy to eggs. Pediatricians do not recommend giving eggs to infants during the first few months after they are born so I'm not sure why you would inject it into the bloodstream of an unborn infant.

    October 8, 2008 at 00:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Allyson

    The amount of mercury in thimerosal isn't enough to damage a fetus; the benefits of the flu vaccine far outweigh any risk...which here is essentially none.

    While it's true that you can still get strains of the flu that aren't covered by the vaccine, isn't it better to be covered for the 3 strains that incredibly qualified doctors and epidemiologists believe will be the most prevalent? Pregnant women are a high-risk group because there are two lives at stake; studies are showing that the influenza virus most likely is able to cross the placenta and infect the embryo/fetus.

    October 8, 2008 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Michelle

    I am pregnant this flu season and will be ready to deliver in a few weeks. I have a large family and have never been advised by my OB to get a flu shot (and nearly all of my children have been born in the fall.)

    I believe that articles like this draw a lot of attention from people that it doesn't directly impact. Whether a women gets, or is advised to get this shot by her physician, is between the two of them based on her health history plus risk factors. As it stands, I've already been advised by my mother that she's read that I need a flu shot because I'm pregnant. I see this as one more thing for pregnant women to be hassled about by well meaning but uninformed bystanders.

    The pediatrician's (Dr. Khurmi's) comments about places refusing to administer flu shots to pregnant women is enlightening. Wonder if the refusing agencies could be interviewed as to their reasons why?? I suspect it's the same reason my OB has never suggested I get a shot.

    October 8, 2008 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jessica

    I am 32 weeks pregnant, and in previous years have been sporadic about getting the flu shot. I have gotten the flu every year, regardless of getting the shot or not, and so have chosen NOT to get the shot this year because the benefits do not outweigh the risks.

    October 8, 2008 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Monica

    I just gave birth 6 months ago to a 10lb baby boy while having the flu. Talk about an out of body experience. It's not something I'd wish on my worst enemy. After that day every single family member that visited me in the delivery room came down with it. Not once while pregnant did my doctor ever recommend that I get the shot and I had regular check-ups.. so this is all news to me.

    As far as getting my son the shot this year, I am a little apprehensive. I think my husband and I will get one but I don't know about the baby. All these negative things I read have finally started to scare me.

    October 9, 2008 at 00:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Allyson

    Monica, they shouldn't scare you. Little to none of the claims that vaccines harm infants and children have been proven. They do not cause food allergies. They do not cause autism. There is little to no scientific evidence showing that any of this is true.

    This morning, I ate a bowl of cereal, and then I sneezed. That doesn't mean that cereal makes me sneeze and that I should avoid it. That would be ridiculous, right? Unfortunately, that is the rationale many anti-vaccine people are using to explain why they don't vaccinate their children.

    October 9, 2008 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Ed

    Allyson, where is the proof that vaccines are good for you. Or for kids for the matter. Where? There are none. It is all a way for Big Pharma to keep the $$ rolling in at the expense of the people' health. The FDA and Big Pharma are the people's worst enemies.

    October 9, 2008 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Emily

    No flu shots or any shots, for me or my child, ever.
    No thanks Big Pharma! Leave the pregnant women alone and get back to touting your Gardasil so you can make the money back you lost on the lawsuits.

    October 9, 2008 at 17:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Cammy

    I am six months pregnant with my second child and will be getting my flu shot, just as I do in any other year. I had a flu shot during the eighth month of my first pregnancy and it did no harm to my unborn son, he is a very healthy 3 year-old today. This was before I knew that thimerosal existed.
    I almost died from the flu 15 years ago – I had 105 degree fever, developed pneumonia, was terribly sick with complications for 9 months after, etc. while in my early twenties. I have never felt so close to death's bed since the one time I did have the flu, it was horrible; it hit me very fast and with a vengence.
    I have never come down with the flu since I started getting flu shots every year after I was so sick, and people can say that maybe I'm just lucky or maybe flu shots really do more good than people realize. But I figure, if the flu almost killed me when I was young, healthy and strong, despite my own misgivings about thimerosal – why should I take a chance on something so horrible killing my baby son or having him grow up without his mother? For me, the value I place on life outweighs the possible risks of thimerosal, even though I do have my own doubts about its necessity. After having barely survived the flu first hand, I will take that risk and responsibility, I choose to have my flu shot.
    I am a housewife and not a doctor; common sense tells me that being cheap (thimerosal) does not equal being something healthy to inject into my body. Formaldehyde is also a preservative, but I would not inject that into my body either, at least not while I am living. LoL

    October 10, 2008 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Gayle

    A pregnant woman has a duty to her unborn child not to take any unnecessary medication, alcohol or drugs into her body. Why on earth would a pregnant woman inject virus particles and thimerosal (containing 25 mcg of ethyl mercury) directly into her bloodstream? The EPA mandated limit of mercury in drinking water is 2 parts per billion. Just 200 parts per billion of mercury in liquid renders it a toxic hazard, and 50,000 parts per billion of mercury is in each standard flu shot given to adults and young children. Mercury does cross into the placenta and is found in the cord blood of infants who are exposed to it, by either their mother's fish consumption, dental amalgam fillings, Rhogam shots, or Flu shots. Educate before you vaccinate, especially if you are pregnant, or want to become pregnant.

    October 10, 2008 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Allyson

    Ed, how about every double-blind scientific study that has examined the efficacy of shots?

    I totally agree with you that pharmaceutical companies working for the sole purpose of profit are horrible and heartless; just take for example the pill they marketed to African-Americans that was little more than two heart medicines put into one pill. That disgusted me, and as a college student intending to pursue a career in scientific research, seriously put me off working for pharmaceutical companies.

    However, please consider that without vaccination, polio would still exist in first-world communities. Thanks to vaccines, we have successfully eradicated almost all of it. That is proof to me.

    October 10, 2008 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Kristin

    I was pregnant last winter and did not got a flu shot. I worked in a high school, where many students came to school sick. Yet, I was fine. I will not be getting a shot this year and neither will my 6 month old. It doesn't even make a 75% guarantee you won't get the flu. My daughter is getting all other vaccines, except chicken pox.

    October 11, 2008 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Dan

    Dose is everything. It is true that 2 ppb are the max in the drinking water, and it is true that the flu shot contains approximately 50,000 ppb mercury. However, the volume of the flu shot is 0.001 liters, and the volume of the water in the human body is ~ 30-40 liters (approximately half of the body weight, but if you are heavy, it is more). Hence, when injected, the mercury gets diluted 30,000 to 40,000 times, and the result is concentration below 2 ppb. Really, girls, get some math education . Obviously the myths regarding the mercury in the vaccines are possible only in a country that is so bad in math that the average person needs a calculator to calculate 2+2.

    October 11, 2008 at 11:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Becca

    I'm 7 weeks pregnant and will definitely get the flu shot this year. I haven't missed it in 16 years and haven't ever had the flu, though I can't be certain that the flu shot is the reason. I refuse to take the chance of being sick at this point. Having the vaccine has been good for me so far and my hope is to share my good health with this little baby-to-be. .

    October 12, 2008 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Allyson

    Also, those values for water mercury safety are based on the fact that you'll be drinking tap water every day. The one-time maximum dose versus a repeated dose of mercury (from, say, drinking water) are two very different things. You only get 1 flu shot, not 1 flu shot per day. Don't be misled by those numbers.

    October 12, 2008 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Aissa Galoso

    That sounds like a great idea.

    October 12, 2008 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Nicole

    I think pregant women should get a flu shot so they can protect themselves as well as their infants from getting it too.

    October 17, 2008 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Sarah

    It drives me crazy that so many misinformed women are polluting the internet with lies about shots. I know you believe it to be true, but us doctors who dedicate our lives to training, researching and learning about ways to keep people healthy have no ulterior motive.

    Regardless of what you believe we DO NOT GET PAID by what you like to call "Big Pharma." I'm a pediatrician and I work at one of the busiest and one of the highest ranking hospitals in the US– and I'm 6 weeks pregnant. And since it's October, I just received the flu shot (with thimerosal).

    Being pregnant with our first child is the greatest gift in the world and we are so very ecstatic... why would I risk putting my baby's life in danger if I was only recommending flu shots becasue of this conspiracy you have about Doctors and Big Pharma? It's laughable, and what you're truly doing is putting people at risk- at risk of catching the flu and harming your child and yourself. That is the one fact everyone should take away from this board- the flu is extremely dangerous to pregnant women.

    It's flu season, if you're pregnant GET THE FLU SHOT. Don't listen to the fear mongers, listen to your doctor.

    October 18, 2008 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. AW

    Flu shots are not a scam. They're different every year and once you have one, you're immune to those strands for life. Therefore, if you get one every year, you increase your immunity by 3 varieties every year.

    There is zero chance of getting the flu from a flu shot, and a pregnant woman passes immunity to her child. If a parent gets the flu, it's not a big deal, but an infant who contracts influenza has a significant chance of dying. 36,000 people do every year in this country.

    Vaccines don't cause autism, either. This is a classic example of confusing coincidence with causation. Autism just happens to start to show symptoms around the time that children get vaccines. If a significant amount of people start believing rumors about this, we're going to be facing the resurgence of deadly infectious disease among children. Diptheria, typhoid, measles, and smallpox anyone?

    Get a vaccine. Protect yourself, your family, your baby, and our public health.

    October 19, 2008 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. MiChelle

    I am losing a battle because I refuse to take a flu shot being pregnant. I am highly educated and I don't believe in taking flu or any other injection for religious reasons. I have been brought up on this belief and I also do not believe in vaccinating my children.

    I feel a woman pregnant or otherwise does have the right to control what is put into her body. Just because the doctor "recommends" a vaccination does not mean it should be forced upon a woman.

    October 20, 2008 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Melissa

    Please do not let these people convince you not to vaccinate yourself or your baby. My way of looking at it is as long as there is no evidence showing risk to your baby then get vaccinated. There is info everywhere as to which vaccines you should not take during pregnancy. How would you feel if you didn't get the vaccine and harm was done to your baby. In the end, its one of those situations where if it is just a big scam by the big pharmos as someone said then so what you're out $25 bucks, but if it really is protecting your baby then not getting the vaccine puts you much more than $25. A healthy life for you and your baby is priceless!!!!

    October 22, 2008 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Caroline

    I *might* be a few weeks pregnant and just went to get a flu shot. I was turned away. The 3 nurses agreed that they did not know if if was safe for me or not and that I should consult a doctor. If it is safe, why don't the health care providers administering the shots know?

    October 26, 2008 at 11:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. SMarie

    I am pregnant w/ #3 and decided not to get the flu shot this year. I starting researching and found about 50/50 were for /against flu shots. I thought about my grandmother /my mother who had 11 and 8 healthy children. There was no such thing as flu shots in their day. We just have to learn to slow down/manage our colds/flu when we get them take off work/rest drink plenty of liquids....

    October 29, 2008 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. VP

    I just got a flu shot and am not pregnant but we are trying to get pregnant – I want to know if I should wait a month before we try again or are we good to go?

    October 30, 2008 at 17:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Beth

    I work for a government facility which is offering free flu shots to every employee, EXCEPT pregnant women. When I asked why they gave no good reason, just told me I'd have to get my doctor to do it. Considering their own information sheet specifically listed pregnant women as a high risk group who should get the vaccine this seems a little crazy.

    November 4, 2008 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. CM

    I was looking for the same info and am in the same exact situation VP. I heard that it takes two weeks to build immunity after getting the shot. I am guessing that after two weeks is when you can try. I just got mine yesterday and plan to start trying to conceive asap but I am worried too. Good to hear so many peds backing the vaccine during any trimester of pregnancy on here.

    And what about the research that implicates the immune response of the mother to the flu in the development of Schizophrenia in her baby? http://www.schizophrenia.com/sznews/archives/005780.html

    There is question as to whether the mother's immune response to the flu raises the risk of Schizophrenia by 3-7%. Of course they aren't ruling out genetics as a contributor too.

    December 30, 2008 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. sonja

    Has anyone gotten the flu shot before knowing they were preganant? I received mine 1 week before the ept came back positive and now am worried about the baby.

    February 12, 2009 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. John Doe

    Dr. Hugh Fudenberg, one of the world's leading immunogeneticists, states the chances of getting Alzheimer's disease is 10 times higher if an individual has five consecutive shots than if they have one, two or no shots. The flu vaccine can actually weaken the immune system and make you more predisposed to the illness. The CDC reports that 90 percent of deaths from influenza occur among the elderly. These kinds of statistics make it nearly impossible to credit the flu vaccine for prolonging lives in this age group, as 65 percent of all deaths (regardless of the cause) happen among the elderly. The fact remains, Flu vaccines are made from the previous year's strains, and can only protect against the types contained within vaccine. In addition the companies that make flu vaccine omitted a strain of the virus known as Fujian A, which became the most common cause of the infection in the 2003-2004 flu season. Most can tolerate the flu vaccine. Some cannot. Do all people who drink become alcholics. Do all smokers get cancer. NO. There are those who will try and make you believe that vaccines are completely safe. This is not true. Do they work. How can they if the flu they protect you from has already swept thru the population. Practice good hygeine, eat healthy, get plenty of sleep and you will avoid the flu. The truth will be revealed in time.

    July 24, 2009 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. trying to conceive

    Drugs can seriously impact your male fertility. It can also harm your unborn baby. Remember, the first thing to do while figuring out how you are trying to conceive fast is to stop consuming alcohol before getting pregnant

    December 25, 2011 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Jaabriic Been

    Hi there, this is a great blog. Good to now that there are still some people paying attention to what they buid. I was wondering if you were interested to publish an article for those couples who need help getting pregnant. I noddest that there are countless people out there who need help getting pregnant. Perhaps an article about it can be of some help to them.a way to get pregnant

    January 15, 2012 at 18:15 | Report abuse | Reply

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