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by Marijana Domazet, Monday, 26 August 2013 | Categories: Influenza

The controversy about whether or not pregnant women should get flu vaccination is one of the most long-standing discussions that appear to occur during flu season every year. Now a recent study suggests that pregnant women and their unborn infant would benefit from flu vaccination. Here we consider the implications of the study.

Although there have been multiple studies indicating that there are no significant risks for pregnant women to get flu vaccinations, many women have been concerned that the vaccination will go through the placenta and harm the unborn infant. This line of reasoning mainly stems from other facts about what can pass from the mother to the unborn infant. A good example of that is cortisol, which is a stress hormone that is able to pass through the placenta and affect the unborn infant’s health (as the infant does not have appropriate immune system mechanisms to handle cortisol). However, there are no reliable studies that have indicated that this would be the case for flu vaccinations.

The current study, which was published in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, analysed data of 74 000 women who at some stage in their pregnancy had received a flu vaccination. The researchers then compared these outcomes to matched controls that had not had a flu vaccination but were around the same age and had similar pregnancy start date. It is also worth noting that the control sample consisted of 300 000 women. The key findings indicated that there was a relationship between women who were vaccinated and pre-existing health problems before pregnancy such as diabetes and high blood pressure. However, upon following up those women, it appeared that there was no effect on whether they had any pregnancy complications, vascular problems or urinary tract infections. A subset of the data also suggested that vaccination was associated with a decreased risk of gestational diabetes.

One thing that we found particularly interesting when reading this study was the fact that the researchers aimed to give explanations behind their findings that did not patronise women who had considered whether the flu vaccination was necessary. For instance, although the findings were statistically robust, the researchers still explained that women who were vaccinated were likely to have had pre-existing conditions, which led doctors to recommend the vaccinations and healthy diets (all of which could have affected the development of other conditions).

Having said that, we still feel like the key take home message from the current study is that there now is robust evidence that demonstrates the importance of pregnant women getting vaccinated. As such, it is our hope that this study dissolves the yearly vaccination discussions.

We would like to point out that we have always supported UK published guidance that has advocated pregnant women to have the seasonal flu vaccination. Here is a link to the NHS page on this matter.

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