CDC advises vaccination for pregnant women against flu and whooping cough

The Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) has recommended that all pregnant women should be vaccinated against influenza and whooping cough to provide protection to the baby against these deadly infections during the first few months of their lives.

The CDC Vital Signs recommendation released this week Tuesday (8th of October 2019), is that these vaccines against flu and whooping cough are safe for pregnant women and do not affect their unborn babies adversely.

Image Credit: Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Image Point Fr / Shutterstock

The CDC website says, “CDC recommends all pregnant women receive flu vaccine at any time during pregnancy, and whooping cough vaccine (Tdap) early in their third trimester, during each pregnancy.”

The organization explains that pregnant women who receive the vaccines pass on the antibodies to their unborn babies and this protects them for the first few months of their lives before the babies can receive their shots against these infections.

The website adds, “Recommendations from healthcare providers are one of the strongest motivators for pregnant women to get vaccinated.” The organization states that unless such recommendations are provided, many pregnant women and their babies remain unvaccinated and are unprotected against these vaccine-preventable infections. The source of such information is from the CDC Internet Panel Survey 2019, the website reads.

The CDC states that two thirds of all pregnant women do not receive the flu shot and the Tdap vaccine against whooping cough. Only 35 percent pregnant women get vaccinated and further only around half of these women receive both the shots.

The risk of these infections are greatest among babies less than 6 months of age and these babies are also at a great risk of hospitalization due to influenza because of their immature immune system. The babies can only be given the flu and the whooping cough shots after they are at least six months of age. The CDC survey found that 38 percent of the pregnant women who did not get the whopping cough vaccine did not know that they needed to be vaccinated against the infection during their pregnancy.

Researchers conducted a survey on hospitalizations and deaths due to flu and whooping cough between 2010 and 2018. They also looked at 2,600 pregnant women between August 2018 to present, in an online survey to look at the vaccine uptake. They found that three in four women during their pregnancy were offered flu, whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria. However one in three of these women did not get the shots, the survey found. Many of these women thought that the vaccine was ineffective or unnecessary. Many women also worried about the safety of the vaccine for their unborn babies and thus refused the vaccines.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C. in a briefing said, “Influenza and pertussis, or whooping cough, are serious infections that can be deadly for babies, especially for those who are too young to be vaccinated directly. We are stressing the importance of two safe and effective vaccines for pregnant women and the risks to both women and their babies when these vaccines are not given during pregnancy.”

The CDC page recommends that healthcare providers should, “discuss the benefits of vaccination with pregnant women early and often, strongly recommend flu and Tdap vaccines to pregnant women.” They should “offer flu and Tdap vaccines to pregnant women, or provide referrals to other vaccination providers,” and “reinforce that vaccination is the best way to protect young babies from influenza and whooping cough.”

The recommendation also states that pregnant women should, “talk with their healthcare providers if they have any questions about flu and Tdap vaccines, get a flu vaccine anytime during pregnancy,” and “get a Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy.” All concerned should in addition get a flu shot each year and get whooping cough vaccine as recommended. All children and adults should receive the recommended vaccines says the recommendation.

The CDC webpage explains that getting the flu vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization due to influenza in pregnant women by an average of 40 percent and in infants below six months of age by an average of 72 percent.

Further the Tdap vaccine against whooping cough during pregnancy has reduced the risk of whooping cough in babies less than 2 months age, by 78 percent. The risk of hospitalization in babies less than 2 months age, due to whooping is also reduced by 91 percent if the mother is vaccinated says CDC.

Whooping cough is especially dangerous for babies below 2 months of age, says the CDC. The agency says that 70 percent of all deaths due to whooping cough are seen among babies less than 2 months of age. “When infants get whooping cough they are usually very sick and have difficulty breathing, eating, drinking or sleeping,” Dr. Schuchat said. “Parents may see their baby gasping for air and even turning blue from lack of oxygen.” The CDC says that the baby would receive a series of five shots against whooping cough.

The maternal shot during pregnancy helps protect the babies till they are ready for their own shots. Shcuchat also warned that infants who get flu have a greater risk of being hospitalized for pneumonia, swelling of the brain and severe dehydration.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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