Vaccines during pregnancy protect moms and their babies
Pregnancy is a time when people tend to focus intently on what they are putting into their bodies and how that might affect their baby’s growth and health.
There are many recommendations on what constitutes a healthy pregnancy diet – eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, lean protein, and whole grains, avoid too much fat or sugar, and take a folic acid supplement. There are also guidelines for what not to consume – alcohol, tobacco, raw fish or unpasteurized cheese, and caffeine, for example.
With all these warnings about taking care what you put into your body, it is not surprising that people who are pregnant sometimes hesitate to get vaccines during this important time. According to a CDC report, last year just 47% of expectant mothers got a flu shot, only 57.5% got a Tdap vaccine, which protects newborns from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough), and only 27% got a COVID booster.
However, the evidence, from both longstanding and recent studies, is clear that all these vaccines and now a new one for RSV - are safe and highly beneficial for both mother and baby.
- Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant people by up to 50%, and the risk of hospitalization for flu by 40%. It also protects babies from flu illness and hospitalization in the first months of life when the baby is too young to get a flu shot.
- Tdap vaccination given during the third trimester of pregnancy has been shown to prevent 78% of pertussis (whooping cough) cases in infants younger than 2 months of age, when the disease is most dangerous to babies.
- COVID-19 vaccine protects pregnant people from the disease, which is more likely to cause dangerous complications in pregnant people than in non-pregnant individuals. These complications can damage both maternal and fetal health. Maternal vaccination also protects babies after they are born. One recent study found that babies whose parent received a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy had lower risk for poor outcomes than babies of unvaccinated moms (7.3% vs 8.3%) and were less likely to die (0.09% vs 0.16%) or be admitted to a NICU (11.4% vs 13.1%).
- RSV vaccine, which is new this year, is now recommended for pregnant women in their third trimester (between 32 and 36 weeks of pregnancy during September through January), because the immunity it generates has been proven to protect babies after they are born. The clinical trial showed that maternal RSV vaccine reduced the risk of severe RSV disease by 82% within three months and by 69% within six months after birth.
“The research studies show these vaccines are safe and there are health benefits for mothers and babies,” says UI maternal health expert Andrea Greiner, MD. “My strongest recommendation is for people to have an open, honest discussion with their provider about these vaccines and find out if they might be a good choice for them and their babies.”