While vaccination rates are rising among pregnant women, more expectant mothers still need to receive specific immunizations to protect themselves and their babies, Siobhan Dolan, a medical adviser to the March of Dimes, said.
“There used to be these fears that getting vaccinated while being pregnant was dangerous, but that’s just not true,” Dolan told Vaccine News Daily. “It’s extremely beneficial for both the mother and the newborn.”
In fact, she said, there are pregnancy-related guidelines on vaccines -- focusing on Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis) and influenza vaccinations during pregnancy – that are somewhat new and important to reinforce.
Specifically, when pregnant women get the Tdap and influenza vaccinations, the vaccines are transmitted to the fetus "in utero,” later protecting a newborn or infant in case they’re exposed to the diseases in the community, said Dolan, who is board certified in clinical genetics, obstetrics and gynecology.
“This vaccination approach highlights the value of passive immunity for the newborn that is achieved by a vaccinated mom while she is pregnant,” Dolan said.
“This is an important and evolving area.”
Pregnant women receiving the Tdap vaccine, for instance, will pass on protection against pertussis – widely known as whooping cough -- in infants, who have substantially higher rates of pertussis and the largest burden of pertussis-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“There has been a resurgence of pertussis in recent years and the increased number of annual deaths of newborns from the disease is shocking,” Dolan said. “An adult’s chronic cough can make a newborn seriously ill. Newborns are more susceptible because their immune systems are so weak."
Dolan said women should get a dose of Tdap vaccine between weeks 27 and 36 of their pregnancy. Likewise, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that pregnant women be vaccinated with Tdap during each pregnancy.
The CDC has found that because many women may not even know their Tdap vaccination status, “there is a widespread need for providers to ensure they are communicating information about recommended vaccinations and to educate all women about the importance of keeping their vaccination status up-to-date and documented, especially reproductive-age women.”
Regarding influenza, the CDC, March of Dimes and AAP jointly recommend that pregnant women receive the seasonal flu shot. They report that influenza is five times more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. And if a pregnant woman gets the flu, the risk of premature labor and delivery is increased, they said.
Influenza vaccination during any trimester has been shown to protect both the mother and infant – up to 6 months of age – from influenza illness, influenza hospitalizations, and influenza-related preterm birth, according to the groups.
“Vaccinations aren’t scary or dangerous for pregnant women,” Dolan said. “A vaccine is a beneficial practice that’s extensively supported by research.”