Are Vaccines Safe During Pregnancy?

I see questions regarding vaccinations during pregnancy all the time. I’m also a pharmacist trained to provide all standard immunizations. From both my role as a pharmacist and as a mom, I know that doctors recommend vaccinations but often provide very little information. There is also a lot of misinformation floating around about the safety of vaccinations.

Here I’m going to answer the common questions about vaccinations in pregnancy.

Q: Should I get a flu shot during pregnancy?

A: The flu shot is recommended every year regardless of whether or not you are pregnant. If you happen to be pregnant at the time you would normally get the flu shot, then it’s important to get it because your immune system isn’t as strong during pregnancy. However, you should only get the injection (not the nasal version) because the injection is a killed vaccine whereas the nasal version is live.

Q: What is the chance the flu shot will give me the flu?

A: There is a 0% chance you will get the flu from the flu shot. The injection is a killed vaccine which means it is absolutely impossible for the virus to multiply. There are no zombie viruses (although that would make for a good horror movie). What you might get (and why people often say the shot gives them the flu) includes a sore arm and a mild fever. If these occur, they can be treated with Tylenol. These are signs that your body is mounting a defense against the virus (which is a good thing). Tylenol can help if the symptoms are bothersome, but they will go away in a couple of days regardless of whether you treat them.

Q: Does the flu shot actually work?

A: How well the flu shot works varies from year to year. The flu is a virus and viruses mutate to prevent detection by the body. Therefore, the flu virus looks a little different each year. These different versions of the virus are called strains. Each winter/spring the CDC tries to determine what strains of the virus are going to be present for the coming flu season. The flu vaccine contains the 4 strains that are predicted to be the most problematic. The efficacy of the vaccine is based on how well the researchers guessed when determining the strains.

It’s also important to note that the flu vaccine is for the respiratory flu, not the stomach flu. The stomach flu may make you miserable for a few days, but it isn’t going to kill anyone. The respiratory flu, on the other hand, is extremely dangerous for the elderly and babies to get.

Q: Will the flu shot hurt my baby?

A: The flu shot will actually help your baby. While you are pregnant, the antibodies (the cells that are designed to attack specific viruses) are transferred to your baby. Once your baby is born, the antibodies will last for a few months. Therefore, by getting vaccinated you provide protection for your baby until they are old enough to get vaccinated.

Q: I got the flu shot last year, why do I need it again?

A: The strains that cause the flu change each year which means the vaccine has to change each year. Therefore, you need to get the current vaccine to be protected from the current year’s strains.

Now let’s move onto the Tdap vaccine.

Q: What is Tdap?

A: Tdap is a combination that stands for tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis. The main reason you are getting this vaccine is for the acellular pertussis component. This is just a fancy name for whooping cough. The whooping cough vaccine only comes in combination with tetanus and diphtheria. You can’t get it alone.

Q: Do I need a Tdap vaccination during pregnancy?

A: Yes. It is recommended that a pregnant woman get the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of every pregnancy.

Q: Why do I need this vaccine?

A: Whooping cough is annoying for healthy adults, but it’s not life-threatening. However, infants die every year from whooping cough. Sometimes they develop a really bad cough, but other times they turn blue and stop breathing. A baby that develops whooping cough will often have to be admitted to the hospital for treatment, and the younger the baby is, the more likely it is that serious complications will occur.

Q: Will I get sick from the vaccine?

A: Tdap is a killed vaccine. Therefore, like the flu shot, it is impossible for the virus to come alive and replicate. You may get a sore arm from the vaccine, but this will go away within a couple days. If it’s bothersome, you can treat it with Tylenol.

Q: If I have two pregnancies close together, do I have to get the Tdap vaccine during both?

A: The benefits of passing the antibodies onto your baby are significant enough that it’s recommended for you to get the vaccine during the third trimester of every pregnancy regardless of how close together they are.

Now for some general vaccine questions.

Q: Are there any vaccinations that I should not get while pregnant?

A: During pregnancy, you should not receive any live vaccines. The live vaccines include MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), Varicella (chicken pox), Herpes Zoster and oral typhoid vaccine. These fore vaccines are live which means that there is a tiny chance that they could cause the illness (compared to the other vaccines where it is completely impossible).

Q: Do I need to get any other vaccinations while pregnant?

A: There aren’t any other vaccinations that are recommended for all pregnant woman. However, if there are other vaccinations that you are due for based on your vaccination schedule, you can get these (just not the live ones mentioned above).

Q: Do people that come visit the baby need to be vaccinated?

A: This is your choice as the parent. Personally, I required all people that were coming to stay with us during the first six months have a flu shot and Tdap vaccination. My suggestion is to require flu shot and Tdap for everyone that will be spending a significant amount of time holding your baby during the first few months. By surrounding your baby with people that are vaccinated, you are creating herd immunity. Herd immunity refers to surrounding an individual that can’t be vaccinated, such as a newborn, with people that are vaccinated which prevents transmission of the virus.

Now you are educated on the basic vaccinations during pregnancy. If you have further questions ask your doctor or pharmacist, so that you get all the facts. If you want to learn more, check out the following resources:

This post originally appeared on My Favorite Job Title is Mom. It has been reprinted with permission.

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