August 5th, 2009
12:05 PM ET

Swine flu vaccine for pregnant women

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical News managing editor

Last October, I blogged about why health officials say pregnant women need to get a flu shot. (Full Story) Reporting on the need to get vaccinated against the influenza virus is something medical reporters do every year. Why in October? Because that's when the vaccine is usually available and when flu season is right around the corner. Why pregnant women? Well, as I learned last year, if a pregnant woman gets the flu, it could lead to serious complications including pneumonia, dehydration and hospitalization. Because pregnancy changes a woman's immune system, she can get a lot sicker than women who aren't pregnant. She can even die from it.

What was even more alarming was learning that the flu can also lead to preterm labor and fetal demise, according to one of the top flu experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Carolyn Bridges. The CDC also found that less than 14 percent of pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 44 actually got a flu shot during the 2006-2007 flu season. I was pregnant last October. After speaking to health officials and several moms who had experienced the flu and told me they’d never been so sick before, I decided that for me, avoiding the risks to me and my unborn child was worth getting a flu shot. Apparently it worked because I didn't get sick.

But now it's August, not October. So why are we thinking about the flu already? Because of the new strain, H1N1. Health officials are now saying that pregnant women not only need to get a seasonal flu shot, but they also should be vaccinated against this new, 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu, better known as the "swine flu" (even though pigs have nothing to do with it) - once the vaccine has been tested and deemed safe.

Last week, the CDC's point person for this new strain of flu virus, Dr. Anne Schuchat, told reporters that pregnant women are “disproportionately” affected by this virus and that they have a fourfold increase of being hospitalized compared with the general population.

The H1N1 virus is causing worse complications and severe infections in pregnant women, Schuchat said.

A study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that pregnant women are more likely to die from this virus and that vaccinating them is one important step to prevent such serious complications.

Health officials told reporters this week that once the H1N1 vaccine is proven safe and becomes available, those in the high priority groups will have to get two H1N1 flu shots – three weeks apart, in order to get full immunity. Those high priority groups include not only pregnant women, but also household contacts of children under 6 months of age (because those children can't get the vaccine); children and young adults age 6 months to 24 years; health care workers and emergency medical personnel; and non-elderly adults with pre-existing medical conditions. It will take two weeks after the second flu shot to build up to full immunity, which means the whole process to protect yourself from H1N1 takes a total of five weeks. Since this new flu vaccine isn't expected to roll out until mid-October, health officials don't expect the population to be protected until the end of December.

Given the experience earlier this spring, where swine flu rapidly spread in some schools and colleges and other places with lots of people in close quarters, health officials are bracing for a big uptick in people getting sick as the regular flu and the new H1N1 flu viruses spread during the cold weather months.

So this year, I once again am pondering what to do. This time it's a lot more difficult because come October, my little son will be just old enough to fall into the priority "six months to 24 years-old" category. Should he get two brand new flu shots plus a seasonal flu shot? It's not an easy decision. Fortunately, I still have a little time to think this over.

How about you? Are you pregnant? Will you get seasonal and H1N1 flu shots when available? Are you a parent of a newborn or infant and are you planning vaccinations for yourself or your child?

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 (124 Responses)
  1. Jacqui

    Jennifer thanks for your post – this does really help.....;0) I went to the Dr's today to speak with my GP about the swine flu vaccine and now feel 10 times more confident about having it, so much so I am going to the clinic on Saturday to have it.

    My GP spoke frankly about the pro's and con's about swine flu. He said that the best case senario would be that my son, me and my husband do not get swine flu however, we can't predict that so we need to look at the other two options.

    If I don't have the vaccine and contract swine flu then I most probably will be absolutely fine however, there is a chance that my health could be compromised and that I would fall into the 'complication' catagory (this is more likely for pregnant women than any other group of people). If this happens then I have a 5 times higher risk of being hospitalised and with that also runs the higher risk of miscarriage / pre-labour.

    If I have the swine flu vaccine then there is NO EVIDENCE that any harm will come to my unborn child, this vaccine is made EXACTLY the same as seasonal flu vaccines and these have been administered for decades with NO eveidence of any ill comings to unborn children. I will be protected against swine flu and know that I am doing everything to protect my children.

    For these reasons myself and my son are having the vaccine, I wish everyone else the best with their choices x

    December 9, 2009 at 07:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. EA

    i am 30 weeks pregnant ,and I was also terrified at first. But i had took the vaccine and its been 2 months and i am fine and so is my baby..she is moving and healthy. My friend who just had her baby also took the vaccine when she was pregnant, and her and her baby are just fine. I just know that i am trying my best to protect my baby.

    December 10, 2009 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lena

    Dear all,

    I am 25 weeks pregnant, and I had my H1N1 vaccine almost 2 month ago. I, as many others, did not have any effects or changes in my body or my fetus movements. It is calming to know that at least no drastic changes had taken place in me or my child. Although I am still alert regarding long-term effect of the vaccine. I tried to see if there are any posts from mothers who had that vaccine and had given birth already, as those in EA's comment. If anybody has such information please share.

    January 8, 2010 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sukie

    I'm 22weeks pregnant. After months of deciding wether or not i would get the swine flu vaccine, i finally did this morning. It's been 12 hours and i haven't had any symptoms. I feel like there was a weight lifted off my shoulders. I feel that i made the right choice for me and my son. By the way my son is moving as normal. And i appreciate the posts on this website because they helped me a lot in making the decision to get the vaccine.

    January 11, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. My Opinion

    I am pregnant and got the swine flu during my 13th week of pregnancy. I am not a fan of vaccinations due to the levels of preservatives in them. I would have rather taken the chance of getting the flu than to inject my developing fetus to a vaccination that I do not believe to be safe. Also, the time frame that they want to give pregnant mothers this vaccination is when the unborn fetus is developing neurologically. No thanks. I want a healthy baby, not one with a potential mental defect. I did not have a fever during my swine flue therefore no infection traveled through to the baby. After it all being said and done – I don't regret it once – turns out that even though people got the vaccination that does not mean you still cant get the flu. So your chances are still 50 -50 if you ask me. I also traveled to Mexico during my 20th week and the Dr's told me I still have a chance of getting it again just a different strain. So what would the vaccination have done for me in the long run anyways? My opinion should not influence you in any way, talk to your Dr. My Dr wanted me to get it too, but I said no. It's your body and your choice. Make the decision that you feel comfortable with. Also until more studies are conducted with autism and vaccinations, considering the flu shot has more mercury than the MMR and don't forget your not suppose to eat fish because of the mercury levels – I'll stay clear of those types of vaccinations to at least try to help my baby the best I can.

    February 12, 2010 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Crystal

    Even just three bad experiances in this list have made me even more weary of the vaccine. When the bird flue came out everyone told me, oh god its anouther epidemic you need your shot, get your shot blah blah blah. I didnt get the shot, I didnt get the bird flue. When I was pregnant with my first baby the doctors tried to PRESSURE me into getting the flue shot, my mom tried to PRESSURE me into getting the flue shot, everyone I knew tried to PRESSURE me into getting the flue shot, I refused and I never did get the flue. This time around my sister and my mom are trying to PRESSURE me into getting the H1N1 Vaccine and im not going to get it. I dont trust any vaccines, if I could I would home school my children so they could avoid getting vaccines but im not qualified so I have to prey on the side lines that they dont get any possible side effects from those vaccines. Though im less worried about those because when I was younger, like so many children, I was FORCED to get those vaccines as well, they literally held me down even when I refused and administered series after series of shots, and thats just screwed up. Now that I have a choice to get these vaccines or not im going to go with my gut and risk taking tamaflue pills if I get it. I trust pills more then these liquid concoctions more, though while pregnant I have been told I can only take tylenol, so im sticking to that thanks.

    February 27, 2010 at 02:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Middy

    My wife is 28 weeks pregnant. She has been offered the vaccine. Generally doctors and specialists in New Zealand are 'pro vaccination' as they have seen the effects of swine flu on pregnant women. I have heard of several women who have been in intensive care for weeks with swine flu and am aware that some have died. On the other side I don't like vaccinations as I like the body to build up a natural protection, however when you know there is a possibility of death as a result of infection, then the boundaries change. The way I view the debate is like this...If 1 million pregnant women have the vaccine and one has complications and loses her unborn child, do you think the general public will hear about the 999999 who had no issues, or the miscarriage? Guaranteed to hear of the miscarriage. Coupled with the fact that I have never heard of any miscarriage that was 100% from the H1N1 vaccine, yet in the small town I live in I have heard of several extremely bad cases of H1N1 resulting in death in pregnant women, the answer is quite straightforward to me. We'll both be off for the vaccine in a couple of days. In saying that, if we worked at home, socialized infrequently,were pregnant outside of flu season and were generally in a very low risk category of contracting the flu then we may have decided not to get the vaccination.

    March 25, 2010 at 08:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Cautious Lynn

    After reading pages upon pages of posting from women that have lost their unborn babies very shortly after getting the H1N1 flu vaccine last year 2009, I will definitely not take the risk with my baby!!! These women had no history of miscarriage and some were tested for genetic issues – they had none! Doctors offered no explanation for their loss and dismissed that it was the H1N1 vacc. BUT could not explain why they all lost their babies within 1-7 days of recieving the shot. This is not a conspiracy theory, it is a real danger to have a vaccine come out that is not studied, proven safe, or even tested for a time trial worhty of being published. One person in our home had H1N1 last year, with immediate care it lasted no longer than the average seasonal flu and no one else in our household became ill. Pray for your family, take care of your health concerns without hesitation BUT PLEASE USE SOME COMMON SENSE BEFORE BELIEVING EVERYTHING YOUR DOCTOR AKA SPONSOR OF BIG PHARM COMPANIES HAS SUGGESTED YOU MUST HAVE then make your own decision and pray it is the right one!

    October 4, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jon

    There are a lot of medications that pregnant women need to be wary of these days and a flu vaccine is definitely one of them. Not just the swine flue one but the normal flu vaccine is bad not only for pregnant women but for everybody really. Ingredients in it have been proven to cause cancer. Find out a lot more of great pregnancy information too at my blog, 12 weeks pregnant It is a great resource for all things pregnant.

    October 27, 2010 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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