There’s been a lot of conflicting information lately about vaccines during pregnancy. And not surprisingly, we hear a lot of questions on this topic at our medical practice. The short answer to the “are vaccines safe” question is that certain vaccines are strongly recommended during pregnancy, and that the known benefits of these vaccines are generally believed to outweigh any potential concerns.
Here are a few of the more common questions we’ve heard, along with our answers.
What is a vaccine and how does it work?
Most vaccines are solutions that contain a weakened, killed or similar version of a virus or organism that causes a particular disease. Vaccines take advantage of the fact that immune systems can “remember” infectious organisms and viruses.
Vaccines are generally injected into the deltoid muscle (the outer part of the upper arm). Vaccines are formulated so that they cannot get you sick, but they can prepare your immune system to fight that particular disease. In other words, vaccination can provide immunity without you having to experience the disease or its symptoms.
Should pregnant women get vaccinated?
Certain vaccinations can protect you from various infections and illnesses during and even after pregnancy. This protection is passed to your unborn child, helping to protect your child during pregnancy and even for the first few months after birth. This is particularly important for infections such as pertussis (whooping cough), which is highly contagious and can be particularly deadly for unborn newborn children and infants. Vaccinations can also protect you from getting a serious disease that could affect future pregnancies.
However, not all vaccinations are safe during pregnancy. Vaccines that should generally be avoided during pregnancy include:
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
In addition, vaccines that contain weakened but live viruses — such as the nasal spray vaccine — are generally avoided for pregnant women (although they are considered safe for postpartum or breastfeeding women). Instead, pregnant women are usually given vaccines that contain inactivated (killed) or synthetic versions of the virus or infection-causing agent.
Your healthcare provider can help explain the vaccinations you should consider before, during and after your pregnancy.
Should pregnant women get a seasonal flu vaccine?
Inactivated seasonal and H1N1 influenza “flu” vaccines are recommended for most pregnant women. Pregnant women have a higher risk for serious complications from influenza than non-pregnant women of reproductive age. Flu vaccine can protect pregnant women and their unborn babies, and also protect the baby after birth. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ¬— a federal agency that protects public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury and disability — classifies pregnant women as a group that is more eligible to receive flu vaccines when the vaccine is in short supply.
What vaccines are safe during pregnancy?
Other than flu vaccines, the only vaccines recommended for routine use during pregnancy are primary or booster Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) vaccinations. One dose of Tdap vaccine is recommended during each pregnancy, regardless of when you had your last Tdap or tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccination.
If you’re traveling abroad or if you’re at increased risk of certain infections, your healthcare provider may recommend other vaccines during pregnancy, such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B and meningococcal or pneumococcal vaccines.
When during my pregnancy should I be vaccinated?
Ideally, all women who are pregnant or might be pregnant during the influenza season should receive the inactivated influenza vaccine in October or the first half of November (prior to the influenza season), regardless of their stage of pregnancy. Vaccination after this period can still be beneficial because peak influenza activity usually occurs in January or February, but may occur as late as May.
Other immunizations during pregnancy may be delayed until the second or third trimester, to minimize concerns about complications. However, certain routine immunizations such as tetanus vaccines may be given during the first trimester if there are special risks to the unimmunized pregnant woman, fetus, or newborn.
Can a vaccine when I’m pregnant cause my child to become autistic?
Some researchers claim a connection between autism and childhood vaccines —particularly measles vaccine and thimerosal, a mercury preservative used in vaccines. However, the overwhelming majority of evidence does not support an association between immunizations and autism. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) does not recommend avoidance of thimerosal-containing vaccines for any group, including pregnant women.
Additional information on vaccines
Extensive information on vaccines and immunization can be found at:
About the practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is a gynecologist located in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berwitt is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s health care in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for 10 years, caring for women of all ages.
Laury and Dr. Garofalo offer and wholeheartedly recommend influenza and Tdap vaccinations during pregnancy.
For more information, go to www.garofaloobyn.com. John Garofalo, MD and Laury Berkwitt, APRN can be reached for personal consultations by calling 203.803.1098.