Pregnancy and the Flu Shot
If you are pregnant during the flu season you will be asked repeatedly if you want the flu shot. I was, and honestly it ticked me off. I said “No” the first time, and “No” the second time. Couldn’t the office staff simply record my response? It seemed after a number of inquiries that they just wanted to wear me down until I acquiesced. In my gut I knew that it wasn’t for me and I wasn’t interested in it.
I ran into another doctor friend of mine who was pregnant and she shared that she was agonizing over the decision to get the flu shot. In the last five years the conventional obstetrical community has jumped on the flu-shot bandwagon and is recommending it to pregnant women everywhere. Personally, I don’t get flu shots…But when I became pregnant, everything changed. I became responsible for an unborn fetus that I hadn’t even met yet. I wanted to do everything “right” and not put my unborn child in harm’s way.
I had a lot of questions and I know you probably do too. The flu season is upon us and many women are asking these questions. For all the soon- to-be mother’s out there grappling with this decision I decided to do a bit more research and deliver some clarifying information.
What is the deal with the flu shot?
Is it really the best possible way to reduce an influenza attack towards your growing baby?
How effective is it?
Does it have any adverse effects?
In 2012 the World Health Organization (WHO) published their position on the flu-vaccine in pregnancy. The WHO identified pregnant women and newborn children to be at high risk for seasonal influenza. The WHO concluded that exposure to the influenza virus while in utero could cause a pre-term birth and small for gestational age fetus. In plain language this means an early birth resulting in a premature delivery and low birth weight baby.
To reinforce this position, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published their position on the flu-vaccine: “The CDC strongly recommends that pregnant women get the flu vaccine at any trimester during flu season to lower the risk for premature labor and birth defects due to influenza.”
These two endorsements caused Obstetrics offices around the United States to start recommending flu-shots to pregnant women.
Here’s what it actually says on the flu-vaccine package insert:
“Safety and effectiveness have not been established in pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under four. There are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women. This vaccine should be used during pregnancy only if clearly needed. It is not known whether FLUVIRIN® is excreted in human milk. Because many drugs are excreted in human milk, caution should be exercised when FLUVIRIN® is administered to a nursing woman.”
The package insert also states that the preservatives in the vaccine can be harmful for the baby in utero. The most common preservative is mercury from thimerosal.
In 2015, flu vaccine rates were 47 percent for adults but pediatricians had vaccinated 75 percent of children under two years old. This is shocking considering that the package insert specifically states that safety and effectiveness have not been established in children under four years old. [i]
There is limited research on safety and the research of the flu vaccine in pregnancy. The results are mixed and inconsistent because there are no adequate well-controlled studies in pregnant women.
Did you know that the flu shot for the 2016-2017 flu season is prepared from the top three strains of the 2015-2016 flu season? The chances of the same flu viruses circling again the following year are quite slim.
Most viral illnesses are flu-like and are not actually the Influenza virus. The flu-like viruses are not covered by the flu shot.
Influenza-like-illness symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, congestion, cough, body aches and fatigue rarely turn out to be actual Influenza.
Flu-Shot Statistics on General Population
In January 2016, U.S. government officials publicly admitted that flu vaccines are only 50 to 60 percent effective at preventing influenza.[iv]
CDC is admitting that flu shots don’t prevent influenza most of the time. [v]
After studying Influenza for the 2012-2013 year U.S. public health officials reported that flu vaccine effectiveness was between 39 percent and 66 percent in Michigan, Wisconsin, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
There is no clear evidence that the vaccine is not harmful during pregnancy. Additionally, there is no clear evidence that the vaccine is beneficial at preventing influenza during pregnancy.
There is inconsistent evidence showing that exposure to the influenza virus during pregnancy actually causes harm to the developing fetus.
Research done on pregnant women in North America is exclusively observational. Observational research is not as reliable as clinical trials.
A Natural Approach
The influenza virus has been around for hundreds of years. Mother nature provides natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial support to help ward off infections and boost your own immune system. I became a Naturopathic doctor because I wanted to learn how to safely use natural substances to repair my own health. So now I rely on nature’s pantry for almost all of my immune boosting needs and I help my patients do the same.
What’s an Expectant Mamma to do?
- If you know in your heart that getting the flu-shot doesn’t sit well with you then don’t do it. Stay strong and just keep saying no.
- Avoid putting yourself in harm’s way. Avoid large crowds if at all possible. I carried a mask around with me in my purse in case I happened to sit next to someone who was coughing and sneezing. When my husband came home sick I gave him a mask to wear around the house and I slept in another room.
- Stock your kitchen with natural immune boosters. Here are some of my favorites.
Pregnancy Safe Immune Boosting and Anti-Viral Support:
*Vitamin C – Daily dose during pregnancy 2,000mg
*Black Elderberry Syrup – 1-2 teaspoons/daily
*Homeopathic Preparations – The most common are cold calm by Boiron and oscillococcinum.
*Echinacea – 5-20oz tincture daily
*Ginger – 5-20 oz. tincture daily and up to 1 pound of dried herb.
*Immune boosting soup – 4 cloves of garlic crushed, 1 yellow onion chopped, 2 quarts of chicken broth, 2-inch piece of ginger grated. Boil together for 20minutes on stove top. Strain and drink broth like a tea.
Vaccine; Does influenza vaccination improve pregnancy outcome? Methodological issues and research needs. Vol 33 Issue 47, Nov 2015, Pages 6430–6435.
[i] CDC. Flu Vaccine Coverage, United States 2014-2015 Influenza Season. Jan. 28, 2016.
[ii] 23 CDC. Influenza Activity – United States, 2014-2015 Season and Composition of 2015-2016 Influenza Vaccine. MMWR June 5, 2015; 64(21): 583-590.
[iii] CDC. Update: Influenza Activity – United States, October 4, 2015 – February 6, 2016. MMWR Feb. 19, 2016; 65(6): 146-153.
[iv] CDC. Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work? Dec. 21, 2015.
[v] CDC. Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work? Dec. 21, 2015.
[vi] CDC. Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness 2005-2015. Dec. 18, 2015.
[vii] CDC. Early Estimates of Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness – United States, January 2015. MMWRJan. 16, 2015; 64(01): 10-15.
[x] U.S Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020 Immunization and Infectious Diseases Goals: Increase percentage of children and adults who are vaccinated annually against seasonal influenza. DHHS Apr. 26, 2016.