Many people don’t understand the need for immunization because they have not personally been exposed to the devastating effects of infection or disease. But the danger is there: according to a report from Trust for America’s Health, approximately 50,000 Americans die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases or their complications, during the influenza season 5-20% of the U.S. population becomes infected with seasonal influenza virus, and by age 50 years 80% of women become infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). The American Cancer Society estimates there are 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 4,000 deaths from it each year. Rates of hepatitis B are highest among adults, with 45,000 new cases per year.
The need for immunization may be more closely associated with infants and toddlers, but vaccines like influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia have long been recommended for adults. More recently, new vaccines such as HPV, shingles, and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) have become available and are recommended for adults.
Pregnant women who are vaccinated can transfer some of their protection to their newborns for the first 2 months of life. For example, the overwhelming majority of illness from pertussis (whooping cough) infection occurs in infants who are less than 3 months of age. Since infants do not begin their vaccinations until age 2 months, there is a time of vulnerability for newborns when they can become ill with this serious disease. Since 2006 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has focused on decreasing pertussis in newborns. The current recommendation is to immunize during pregnancy at any time, but optimally just prior to expected delivery, during 27 to 36 weeks of gestation. However, there may be compelling reasons to vaccinate earlier in pregnancy. There is no evidence of adverse fetal effects from vaccinating pregnant women with an inactivated virus or toxoid, and increasing data shows more and more vaccine safety. If Tdap vaccine was not administered during pregnancy it can be given in the postpartum period to reduce risks to the newborn, and additionally other family members and direct caregivers can receive the vaccine to enhance protection “cocooning.”
Vaccination is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and for your baby. It can protect against diseases that can make both of you seriously ill. Vaccination is safe for both of you. For example, flu vaccine has been given safely to millions of pregnant women for more than 50 years.
Thimerisol, a type of mercury, is an ingredient in some vaccines. It has not been shown to be harmful to pregnant women or unborn babies, and it does not cause autism. The benefits of preventing life-threatening illnesses far outweigh any potential risks of the vaccine.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly recommends vaccine administration. The benefits of nonlive vaccines outweigh any potential unproven concern. The following is a table on vaccination during pregnancy and more information can be found at ACOG’s immunization web site, http://www.immunizationforwomen.org.