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Pregnancy

Are Vaccines Safe in Pregnancy?

Jennifer Lincoln, MD, IBCLC, Board Certified OB/GYN
January 3, 2019 . 2 min read

Most people are aware of the role vaccines play in helping to eradicate large-scale outbreaks of deadly diseases, but what about in pregnancy? Should vaccines be avoided when you\’re pregnant? Or do you need them to protect your baby?

The short answer is that while many vaccines are safe in pregnancy, some should be avoided. These include any vaccines that contain live versions of viruses, such as the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine or the nasal form of the flu vaccine.

However, vaccines that do not contain live-attenuated viruses can be given in pregnancy. In fact, there are two vaccines that pregnant women are recommended to receive: the inactivated version of the flu vaccine and the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.

Pregnancy and the flu do not mix! Pregnant women who get the flu are more likely to end up sicker, be hospitalized, and have severe respiratory complications. This can have ill effects for both mom and baby. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Congress of Obstetricians/Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that all women who are pregnant during flu season (October to May in the United States) receive the flu vaccine at any time in pregnancy. This helps to protect not only them, but passes immunity to the unborn baby as well.

Likewise, the vaccine for pertussis (the “p” in Tdap) is responsible for causing whooping cough. This bacterial infection is highly contagious and disproportionately affects infants less than 4 months old. These infants have a very high rate of needing to be hospitalized, and sadly 1 percent of them die from the disease. Recent outbreaks have made the news, and for good reason—the rates have dramatically increased in recent years. Even worse, the majority of infected infants seem to be catching the infection from close relatives.

Therefore, the CDC and ACOG now recommend that all pregnant women receive the Tdap vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. This is to maximize mom’s immunity as well as pass some on to baby (since babies don’t start their own pertussis vaccines until 2 months old). They also recommend getting re-vaccinated with every pregnancy, and that surrounding family members get vaccinated, too.

To date, there have been no reputable studies linking vaccines with miscarriage, developmental problems, or autism—despite what you may hear in the popular media.

Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, November 2018

Sources:

  • American Congress of Obstetricians/Gynecologists
  • Committee Opinion #566: Update on Immunization in Pregnancy: Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis Vaccination.
    American Congress of Obstetricians/Gynecologists
  • Committee Opinion #558: Integrating Immunizations into Practice.
    American Congress of Obstetricians/Gynecologists
  • Committee Opinion #468: Influenza Vaccination During Pregnancy.
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Guidelines for Vaccinating Pregnant Women.

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