First, some bad news: Infants can’t get a flu vaccination until they’re six months old
Before the age of six months old, baby bodies have not yet produced the antibodies necessary to support the protection provided by vaccination. So for the longest time it was thought there was nothing you could do.
It can be a scary situation, but new parents can now relax a bit.
Now for the good news: flu protection for a baby can be inherited from the mother
This is why I almost always give the flu vaccine to my pregnant patients.
Recent research shows the human reproductive process can provide infants with hand-me-down protection against the flu. A very interesting 2016 study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was conducted in the African nation of Mali. It showed that infants born to women who received a flu shot during their pregnancy were protected against the flu. The mother’s vaccine passed through the placenta and worked for the baby.
Those findings have now been confirmed and expanded by a recent American study. Researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine focused on nearly 250,000 women who gave birth at Intermountain Healthcare hospitals in Utah and Idaho over nine flu seasons (2006-2014).
The study’s results show that a pregnant woman who gets a flu shot, as strongly recommended both in my practice and by the CDC,, significantly reduces the likelihood that her baby will suffer serious complications from influenza.
Upon entry to an Intermountain hospital in Utah or Idaho, each of the 245,386 women involved in the study was asked if she had received a flu vaccination during her pregnancy. The children born to subjects of the study were then tracked for the first six months of their lives.
The results from babies whose mothers got a flu shot when they were pregnant are impressive
A baby born to a woman who had been vaccinated was almost 3 times less likely to suffer a “flu-like illness” than was the child of a woman who had not been vaccinated.
Immunizing pregnant women (as well as fathers-to-be and anyone else who will spend significant time around the baby) provides two separate modes of protection.
- The caregiving partner is less likely to catch the flu and pass it on to the baby.
- Studies show that the protective antibodies developed by mothers, in response to their own vaccinations, migrate through the placenta and into the fetus’ bloodstreams. There they provide protection until the babies are old enough to receive their own vaccinations.
The progressively increasing rate at which pregnant women are being vaccinated against the flu
In the initial stages of the Utah/Idaho study, only about 2% of the expectant mothers reported being vaccinated during their pregnancies. By the end of the study, after the pandemic flu seasons of 2009-2010 and 2013-2014, fully half of the pregnant women were reporting that they had been vaccinated.
“There’s been a culture shift,” said Julie Shakib, the University of Utah pediatrician who led the study. “Over time we are encouraged by the improvement in providers’ ability to deliver the flu vaccine and their willingness to strongly recommend it.”
We’re glad to add our voices to those of Dr.Shakib, the CDC, and the many other researchers who are strongly recommending a flu shot for all pregnant women. If you are not a patient of mine, and are pregnant, or plan on trying to get pregnant, please talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot. I think you will be very glad you did!
PS. If you want to totally geek out, here is a link where you can read more from the study.
As one of the nation’s leading OB-GYNs, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in obstetric care. Supported by her warm professional team, Dr. Aliabadi treats women through all phases of life and fosters the special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor.
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