“We have long been advocates of vaccinating pregnant women against influenza and this study further validates what we’ve been telling our patients,” said Dr. Stephen Crane, chair of the department of maternal fetal medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital. “While pregnant, a woman undergoes a lot of physiological changes, including her heart, lung and immunologic systems, which is why she is more susceptible to infection. All pregnant women should get the flu shot as soon as it’s available so they can start building up their immunity.”
The study found that during the 2009-2010 flu season, infants born to vaccinated mothers had a 37 percent lower likelihood of being premature, and they also weighed more at birth than babies born to unvaccinated women.
“For pregnant women, inflammation from the flu can stimulate labor and lead to preterm delivery,” Dr. Crane said. “Going into preterm labor means the baby may be born prematurely with a lower birth weight, which carries a greater risk for complications such as cerebral palsy, breathing problems and vision issues.”
According to the CDC, vaccination rates among pregnant women were historically 13 to 18 percent in the U.S., but in the 2009-2010 flu season, rates for the H1N1 vaccine increased and stayed at 45 percent.
However, pregnant women still accounted for 5 percent of flu-related deaths in 2009, even though they only make up 1 percent of the U.S. population according to the CDC.
“Immunity is the best medical treatment,” said Dr. Crane. “Vaccines are the most cost-effective and preventative medicine we have. I keep up on my own vaccinations and I make sure my wife and kids are vaccinated as well.”
The CDC recommends all individuals age 6 months and older be immunized.