Flu shots safe for pregnant women – expert

As the winter approaches in Australia and New Zealand, health professionals are recommending flu shots for new and expectant mums.

The safety of flu vaccination during pregnancy is well established and should be routine, according to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The College says that vaccination offers benefit to both mothers and infants. Influenza immunisation is estimated to prevent 1 to 2 hospitalisations per 1000 women vaccinated during the second and third trimester.

New Zealand’s National Influenza Specialist Group (NISG) says that the vaccination is free until 31 July  for pregnant women, people aged 65 years and over, and those with ongoing medical conditions.

“Pregnant women are offered free immunisation as studies have shown they are particularly susceptible to more severe outcomes from flu. Additionally, vaccination of pregnant women has been shown to decrease the incidence of influenza in their new-born babies,” says NISG spokesperson Dr Nikki Turner.

Dr Turner says women should also think about immunisation against influenza for children. Immunisation is recommended, but not free, for healthy children.

The 2012 seasonal influenza vaccine includes protection against three types of flu, including the Pandemic H1N1 Influenza 09 (swine flu), which is expected to be still in circulation in New Zealand this season.

“People need to be immunised as soon as possible as it can take up to two weeks to develop immunity after vaccination,” says Dr Turner.

“Although flu is mild-to-moderate for most people, it can lead to serious complications and even, in rare cases, death for others.”

Research in Australia and New Zealand found that pregnant women are seven times more likely to be admitted to intensive care with severe influenza than women who are not pregnant.

The study also found that women more than 20 weeks pregnant were at an even higher risk as they were 13 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care than a woman who is not pregnant.

Health experts believe pregnant women are more affected than others by swine flu because of the changes that occur in a woman’s body when she is pregnant. The developing fetus places stress on a pregnant woman’s respiratory system as well as her other organs as the unborn baby grows, making a woman more vulnerable to developing severe complications from what would normally be a more mild case of the flu.

The influenza vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in pregnant women. No study to date has shown an adverse consequence of inactivated influenza vaccine in pregnant women or their offspring.

Myth: the flu vaccination gave me the flu!

Unlikely, as the flu vaccine does not have active viruses, rather it is made from inactive viruses that stimulate your body’s immune response.

There are a number of viruses that circulate during the flu season and the seasonal flu vaccine protects against the most common strains that are expected to be making the rounds that season, including swine flu.

If you get the flu after having the flu vaccination, unfortunately you have caught a strain of flu that you have not been vaccinated against, or you did not respond completely to the vaccine.

For free health advice in New Zealand, call Healthline 0800 611 116. For advice about influenza immunisation visit http://www.fightflu.co.nz or http://www.health.govt.nz or text FLU to 515.


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