It’s summertime, which seems like a bit of an odd time to be publishing research about influenza. Who’s thinking about fever, chills and achiness when skies are sunny? Well, if you’re pregnant come fall when flu vaccinations begin, you should be: new research shows that women vaccinated during pregnancy give birth to babies who are far less likely to be hospitalized for the flu.
Flu vaccinations are recommended for anyone over six months old, leaving younger babies out of luck; the vaccine is simply not effective in such young infants. But very young babies are also the children most likely to be hospitalized for flu, making it particularly important for their mothers to get immunized while pregnant.
It’s a win-win medical move: vaccinated moms share antibodies with their babies through the placenta. Immunization benefits both mom and baby since pregnant women are more susceptible to flu complications, including death.
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“This study showed us that receiving the influenza vaccine during pregnancy not only protects the mother, but also protects the baby in the early months of life,” Katherine Poehling, an associate professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the study’s lead author, told the university.
The study, which appears in the June issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, analyzed data from flu seasons between 2002 and 2009 that was collected by the New Vaccine Surveillance Network, which is associated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Within that data, researchers learned of 1,510 babies who had been hospitalized and had been tested for influenza infection. They concluded that babies born to moms who were vaccinated during pregnancy were up to 48% less likely to be hospitalized for influenza.
If the study results sound familiar, it’s because similar studies have been published in pediatric journals. Poehling notes that pediatricians only come into contact with babies once they’ve been born; obstetricians, on the other hand, have the potential to influence women’s vaccination decisions during the course of their pregnancies, by educating them and offering flu vaccines on site.
“Where the information is published really does make a difference because pediatricians need to know about it, but it’s even more important that the doctors taking care of pregnant women — obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) — know it, too,” she says. “Pediatricians have been vaccinating children for a long time, but vaccine recommendations for OB/GYNs have changed over the last decade, so everyone is having to learn new recommendations and adjust.”