Pregnant people have a lot on their minds. They may worry about everything from “Is my baby developing normally?” to “What color should I paint the nursery?” But many pregnant people may also wonder whether to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu and COVID-19. Here’s some information that should help put any doubts to rest.
Are flu and COVID-19 vaccines recommended for pregnant people? Are the vaccines safe?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the answer is a resounding yes.
In fact, CDC recommends that pregnant people, recently pregnant people (including those who are breastfeeding) and those who are trying to become pregnant get vaccinated for seasonal flu and COVID-19. The CDC advises for vaccinations to take place as soon as possible since their benefits greatly outweigh the risks.
Pregnancy and Flu Vaccine
According to the CDC, flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant people than in people of reproductive age who aren’t pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant people and those who have recently given birth more prone to severe illness from flu. The flu also may be harmful for a pregnant person’s developing baby because a common flu symptom is fever. And fever may be associated with neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes for the developing baby. Getting vaccinated can also help protect a baby from flu after it is born. The pregnant parent can pass antibodies onto the developing baby during pregnancy.
“If a pregnant person is vaccinated against the seasonal flu,” said William Isenberg, M.D., PhD, Sutter Health’s chief quality and safety officer and an OB/Gyn, “The baby will receive antibodies to the flu virus in the womb or, after they’re born, through breastmilk. These antibodies can help protect baby from flu until they reach 6 months of age and may themselves be safely vaccinated against the flu.”
CDC reports that flu shots have been given to millions of people over many years with an excellent safety record – including for pregnant people and their babies.
Pregnancy and COVID-19 Vaccine
COVID-19 also presents a serious danger to pregnant people and their babies. According to CDC, as of September, more than 22,000 pregnant people in the U.S. have been hospitalized with COVID-19 –and 161 have died. Notably, of the 22,000 pregnant people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19, about 97% were unvaccinated.
CDC further reports that in addition to the risk of severe illness and death for pregnant and recently pregnant people from COVID-19, there is an increased risk for adverse pregnancy and newborn outcomes. Those risk include premature birth and hospitalization in a neonatal intensive care unit. Other adverse pregnancy outcomes, including stillbirth, have also been reported.
“Despite these risks, we know that only about 31% of pregnant people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before or during their pregnancy,” said Dr. Isenberg. “This concerns doctors because it’s critical for the development of the baby and for the health of the pregnant person for them to be able to breathe properly. The COVID-19 virus can really wreak havoc on our lungs.”
It’s also important that pregnant people get vaccinated for COVID-19 before they give birth because COVID-19 vaccine is not yet approved for infants. “Some immunity is passed from the pregnant person to the baby in the womb and through breastmilk. If the pregnant person is vaccinated, the baby will also receive some immunity to COVID-19 from their parent,” said Dr. Isenberg.
Is it Safe to Get Both Vaccines at Once?
The CDC says that flu and COVID-19 vaccines may safely be administered at the same time.
The Bottom Line
“As we have for many years, doctors recommend that pregnant people get vaccinated for the flu. And now for their health and their baby’s health, we are also urgently recommending they get vaccinated against COVID-19. Please don’t delay! Research shows us that it can be risky for pregnant people and for their babies to be unvaccinated for either the flu or COVID-19,” said Dr. Isenberg.
Note: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.