How safe is the flu vaccine in pregnancy?

Ugh. I’ve been dreading this one because I don’t think I’m going to be very helpful here. There could be an entire website devoted to the controversy surrounding vaccines (and there is) but I’m going to try and keep this as simple as possible.

I think vaccines are one of the most major health advances we have ever had and we should never lose sight of how horrible the diseases are that they prevent.

The flu kills approximately 36,000 people every year so it’s worth being frightened. It doesn’t look like the flu itself will harm your baby, but treating you for influenza becomes complicated while you’re pregnant and if you get really sick and kick it, well, that’s not good for either of you.

On the flip side, I get why people are twitchy. Rumours about autism, alzheimer’s, etc. make the best of us hesitant. Not to mention, most of us grew up sheltered from the horrible diseases that vaccines prevent so our perspective is skewed. The US government has paid out $847 million for vaccine related injuries since 1988 (about $32,000 a year) so while vaccines aren’t totally benign, the risk is still very low.

The consensus seems to be that you should get the shot when you’re pregnant and that the risks from vaccines are outweighed by the risks of the flu. 

Thing to note:

  • You can get the flu shot at any point during your pregnancy
  • You can’t get the intranasal spray when you’re pregnant (it isn’t licensed for pregnant women) but you can get either the spray or the shot when you’re breastfeeding
  • If you have a baby under 6-months old, it’s not a bad idea to get yourself vaccinated. Infants younger than 6 months are at high risk for serious flu-related complications, but cannot get a vaccine. 
  • Thimerosal is one of the buzz words floating around vaccines so ask your doctor if you can get a unadjuvanted vaccine that doesn’t contain it.

I also want to clarify that the flu isn’t a bad cold or a stomach bug. It’s a ramped up version of a cold accompanied by fever, chills, muscle pain, headaches, coughing and severe fatigue. It leaves you open to all kinds of complications like pneumonia and bacterial infections and that’s where it can turn ugly.

The flu season can start as early as October, it peaks in February and can last into May. 

You can also check out the CDC website for more information here (pregnancy), here (breastfeeding) and here for folks caring for babies under 6-months old.

*editor’s note: this post is about adult, pregnant women getting vaccinated for the flu and not about children getting vaccines so please don’t leave horror stories about a 2-year old dying of the chicken pox here. Thanks.

search: unadjuvanted vaccine, thimerosal, influenza pregnancy, swine flu vaccine ingredients, vaccine injury compensation fund

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27 Comments

  • As a microbiologist I would strongly suggest getting vaccinations for yourself and for your child. If you look at the scientific papers AND the clinical studies posted on sites like PubMed, Medline, WebMD, clinical trials.gov, and UpToDate you will see that the science behind vaccinations (and the trials) are quite safe. These diseases are more likely to kill your child than any of the side effects (with a few exceptions, severe allergies and hyperactive immune systems being some of them).

    Anyone who states that vaccinations are linked to Autisim are not looking at the facts. The paper used to prove this has been recanted by every single scientific journal it was in because the lead researcher FALSIFIED the data. He has not been stripped of his PHD and is no longer able to publish anything in reputable scientific journals.

    However, there are legitimate reasons for not getting vaccinations. If you or your child have an egg allergy you need to check your vaccinations with your doctor before you get them. My little cousin almost died because her doctor failed to ask if she had an egg allergy. Also, there are more than one type of vaccination for different diseases. If you are worried about them go to the CDC and look up how the vaccination is made.

  • Wow. I’m not even going to try to tackle the comment that says there is no proof that vaccines work. That person must be illiterate or something.

    I will point out that the flu vaccine IS available without thimerosal, if you are concerned about thimerosal during pregnancy. Any single-dose vial (one vial only has enough for one shot) does not have thimerosal, nor does the nasal version of the vaccine. The multidose vials (10 doses per one vial) has the thimerosal as a preservative so that the vial does not get contaminated with mold or other microbial contaminants between shot 1 and shot 10.

    Source: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/thimerosal.htm

  • Where to find the most information:

    http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/

    The CDC does post publicly .pdf files of all the known risks associated with each vaccine. It's hard to find, at least partly b/c the news media is concerned about selling commercials and not giving out information.

    Re: lawsuit settlements, NOT to disregard the significance, but the standards required in court aren't really scientific.

    I am a lowly public policy person and I got my Master's at one of the best public health schools in the country. The information that's out there is pretty confusing b/c of the emotion surrounding all of everything. I personally feel pretty strongly that the benefits outweigh the risks of vaccines. I also personally have looked at the public health research surrounding a lot of issues, not just mercury/vaccines/autism and I've never seen such a mountain of evidence for any other treatment as that pointing toward the safety of vaccines (although some do have some rare nasty temporary side effects, none are as bad as the disease). And the main way vaccines work is through the "herd effect," so a large percentage of the population has to get them in order for the effect to be maximized. Hence it's such a sensitive subject.

    But read the .pdfs for yourself.

    Another good resource is Autism Speaks – they post research on their site.

    • Please don’t use Autism Speaks as a source. Every person I know that has autism (including my husband) hates them. They mainly ‘speak’ for those who know those with autism, not letting those with autism ‘speak.’ They also have a history of bullying those with autism that advocate for themselves. I find them to be a collection of parents that want to complain and scapegoat autism on anything they can rather than genetics and neurological diversity.
      I agree looking at ingredient lists, but also compare them to other sources. Many of the inactive ingredients are found in the same foods we eat and even our body creates them.

  • Bethany VK,

    I don't know you or know your heart. But it is sickening and saddening that we should ever refer to human life as collateral. (I am sure someone will bring up war as a comparison. I don't think that that is really relevant.)

    As the sibling of a vaccine injured child who is now an ADULT, whom my mom spends most of her time caring for (therefore, my mother is a permanent SAHM), I am incensed by comments about "the greater good" and such. Sure, the 1/ 5000 (it's actually not nearly that low, I am sure) or whatever means you don't have to worry–UNLESS that one is you. Once the damage is done, it cannot be undone.

    Unfortunately, some on the anti-bandwagon have probably made a name for themselves by being angry and thus appearing crazy. The fact is that most who choose against it (especially in my experience) tend to be those with multiple degrees. In other words, they're more highly educated than your average person.

    But vaccines are full of poison–and if you don't believe that, read actual inserts and actual comments by those who used to work for pharmaceutical companies. People give them to their children because a) they don't directly know someone who's died or been permanently severely handicapped from one, so they don't believe that that's a real possibility or b) they believe the benefits outweigh the risks.

    No one's denying that there are risks to the flu, etc. However, vaccines don't negate these risks. There's NO proof that vaccines do any good. There's good, solid evidence of them doing harm. As much as people like to change "Correlation doesn't equal causation" with vaccines and autism, it's interesting that none of them have given a passing thought to "Correlation doesn't equal causation" when it comes to the so-called eradication of diseases. (What about hygiene and nutrition?)

    All: Please spare yourself writing me an angry diatribe and saying "people like you" and calling me an idiot and such. For one thing, I don't have time to follow and reply to these things. This kind of vilifying is what is promoted in the absence of real facts, and unfortunately it's working. Please spend an hour reading about the risks of vaccines and talking to someone you believe is intelligent who chooses not to vaccinate. It won't be giving them equal time, but it will be something.

    I want your child to live. And not be vegetative, paralyzed, or otherwise severely handicapped. Please just research for an hour. (Please research, rather than writing something snarky back about my lack of research. I'm not posting it all here; there are plenty of links listed above.)

  • my cousin/pediatrician explained it like this when I pelted her with questions about vaccines: They are tested to be safe… at least SAFER than if everyone got the disease. They cause issues but the compared issues of people getting the disease are worse. So, if 100 people got the vaccine and 3 died of a horrible side effect it would still be better than 100 people getting the disease and 5 of them dying from it… too bad if your kid is one of the 3. It's like the military… acceptable collateral damage.

  • A wise, older, co-worker once said to me. "If all these families choosing not to vaccinate were old enough to remember the diseases we are vaccinating for, they would be first in line with their newborn for her shots." I'm work in a family practice and give vaccines every day. I also like to think of myself as a "natural" mom. I breastfeed, baby wear when I can and cloth diaper. And yes, I vaccinate my child.

    • Good for you! A lot of people think they have to choose between being "natural/crunchy granola" and "traditional/mainstream". There are a lot of good things on either side.

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