Just as the flu season kicks off in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported startling news about pregnant women and the flu: Pregnant women account for a significant number of flu hospitalizations every year yet only about half of pregnant women in the U.S. get the flu shot.
The CDC found that 54% of pregnant women reported getting a flu vaccine before or during pregnancy, and only about 35% receive both the flu and whooping cough vaccine, which also is strongly recommended for this group.
Pregnant women made up about a quarter to one-third of women of childbearing age who were hospitalized for influenza between 2010 and 2018. But only 9% of U.S. women ages 15 to 44 are pregnant at any given time. This is further evidence that pregnant women who get the flu are more likely to suffer severe complications.
The women’s top reasons for not getting the flu vaccine, according to the CDC, were believing it wasn’t effective and concerns about its safety for the fetus.
“Moms-to-be tell me all the time they’re afraid the flu shot will hurt their unborn babies or they have never gotten the flu shot before so why now,” says Dr. Laura Riley, obstetrician and gynecologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, who has worked with the CDC and leading OB-GYN organizations to provide guidance on protecting pregnant women and their babies through vaccination. “I tell them that the flu shot has been evaluated in numerous studies and shown to be safe for babies. In fact, mom’s flu shot provides the best protection for newborns.”
Dr. Riley, a self-described “Flu Shot Queen,” spoke to Health Matters about pregnancy and the flu, and why getting the flu vaccine is so important for expectant mothers.