It’s that time of year again. “Flu” season has rolled around and resurrected the endless-often vitriolic-debates about the merits of vaccination.
Pregnancy adds another level to the debate. Vaccine rejectionists cite potential damage to mother and baby as reasons not to be vaccinated. Some claim the flu vaccines have caused miscarriages.1 Vaccine advocates cite the increase of complications and mortality when pregnancy is combined with a bout of influenza.2 Furthermore, the H1N1 strain is claimed to be a more viscious virus3, while those antagonistic to vaccines claim the shot itself is either more dangerous or a useless scam4. So who’s right?
Some relevant facts which will contribute to good decision making:
1. True influenza commonly includes symptoms such as: fever over 100 degrees F, chills and sweats, aching muscles, dry cough, fatigue and weakness, nasal congestion. High-risk individuals may develop complications like pneumonia (particularly with H1N1), bronchitis, and infections of the sinuses and ears.5 These symptoms can be exacerbated by pregnancy, or can cause pregnancy symptoms to worsen.
2. Some influenza vaccines contain preservatives such as thimerosal, others do not.6 Thimerosal has not been proven to have statistically relevant serious side effects and the CDC does not consider it a major risk, but companies have been working to remove it or replace it with something else in their vaccines for over a decade.7
3. There are 4 types of flu vaccinations. Live influenza, inactivated influenza, life H1N1 influenza, and inactivated H1N1 influenza. Pregnant women should avoid the live vaccinations. Pregnant women who also have a hypersensitivity to eggs and egg products should consult their physician before getting any vaccinations, as the inactivated vaccines are grown in egg proteins.8
4. Side effects to the flu vaccination can include swelling, itching and redness at the site of the shot and may mimic milder symptoms of the flu depending on the type of vaccine (fever, head and muscle aches, nausea/vomiting, cough, etc). Serious side effects such as Guilliane-Barr Syndrome are rare (1 or 2 cases per million) but devastating.9
5. Vaccinations do not provide 100% protection from disease. You may get sick because you’ve been exposed to the contagion before getting vaccinated. You may also get sick because your body does not respond to the vaccine and develop the antibodies to fight off the disease. In healthy adults under age 65, the effectiveness rate (lab tested) is between 70% and 90%. For the immunocompromised and the elderly, the rates are much lower.10
Ultimately making this decision involves putting the risks and benefits on a balance and weighing them out with consideration of each individual’s situation. It also requires that each individual takes ownership and responsibility for their choice, and makes themselves aware of the risks on both sides of the argument. Regardless of whether one chooses to vaccinate or not, all of us should practice common sense measures to prevent the transmission of disease and to help our bodies fight infection efficiently.
1Vaccines and Pregnancy Do Not Mix, Paul Fassa, naturalnews.com
2Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus infections in three pregnant women, various contributors, CDC/MMWR
3Study Suggests H1N1 Virus More Dangerous Than Suspected, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Medical News Today
4Dangerous, Deadly H1N1 Vaccine Scam, Dr. Leonard Horowitz, rense.com
5Influenza (flu), staff, Mayo Clinic
6Seasonal Influenza (flu) Q&A, staff, CDC
7Thimerosal Timeline, staff, CDC
8Who Should NOT Get Vaccinated, staff, CDC/MMWR
9Vac-Gen Side effects: Influenza, staff, CDC
10Seasonal Influenza Vaccination: Effectiveness, staff, CDC