Half of pregnant women don’t get flu shots, putting themselves and their child at risk of severe flu.
The finding comes from a CDC survey showing that during last year’s flu season, 53% of pregnant women did not get the seasonal flu vaccine. That’s about the same percentage seen in the two previous flu seasons.
They’re taking big risks, Laura E. Riley, MD, director of obstetrics and gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital, said at a news teleconference held by major U.S. medical groups.
“We know pregnant women have a five times higher risk of getting very ill if they get the flu during pregnancy or immediately after they deliver,” Riley says. “Unfortunately, we have seen women lose babies when in that condition.”
Last year’s flu season was one of the mildest on record. Yet Riley said one of the flu patients she saw was a healthy woman with an uncomplicated pregnancy. When she came into the emergency room, she was 26 weeks pregnant and not feeling well.
Even though the patient was a doctor, she had not had a flu shot. And she refused an offer of Tamiflu, saying she hadn’t read the medical literature showing that the flu medication was safe to take during pregnancy.
“In about six hours she started to look toxic and got admitted to intensive care,” Riley recalls. “She got sicker and sicker and spent five days on a ventilator. The baby did not survive.”
Pregnant women who get flu shots protect their children even after birth, notes William Schaffner, MD, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.