There’s a lively debate going on over at Science & Sensibility on the subject of flu vaccination for pregnant women. It’s worth checking out. There’s quite a variety of viewpoints – I’ve tossed in a couple of comments, too.
My take on it is similar to that for other vaccines: the point is risk reduction, not risk elimination, which is impossible. Babies in the 0-6 month age group are much more likely to be hospitalized than older children and adults. Influenza vaccine substantially reduces the risk of infection in those two high-risk groups.
This is something I recently wrote for an obstetrics listserv I subscribe to:
Here’s a pediatrician’s perspective. This is my 32nd flu season working with children, and I strongly recommend influenza vaccine to the pregnant women I encounter, both for their own health and that of their babies. Infants (0-6 months) with influenza have a 30-fold increased risk of hospitalization compared with children ages 5-17 years. They’re much more prone to bacterial complications too, like pneumonia, and they have the highest mortality rate of any age group except the > 65 year old demographic. If a mother catches influenza, it’s almost a given that her baby will, too.
Personal experience: We hospitalized more than a dozen children with influenza from our pediatric clinic last year – the majority were less than 6 months old and had no risk factors for severe disease. Two-thirds of the hospitalized babies were solely breast fed.
It’s good to emphasize less obvious complications as well. For example, even in milder cases influenza can disrupt breast feeding from the baby’s perspective, whether from fussiness, lack of appetite, frequent cough, nasal congestion, or general exhaustion. And a mother with influenza can easily become dehydrated, compromising her milk supply. All in all, influenza is an excellent disease to avoid, and the best way to do that is vaccination.
So if you’re pregnant, or you take care of babies, please get vaccinated! This is the time to do it – before the influenza season hits.