The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic offered unprecedented opportunity to study the effect of flu vaccinations on pregnant women and the babies they carried. Before 2009, less than 18 percent of all pregnant women in the US got flu shots. In 2009, that rate rose to 45 percent and has remained near 45 percent ever since.

It is understood the flu shot reduces a woman’s chance of getting the flu but its safety on the developing baby was a concern many women cited for not getting vaccinated. A growing number of medical studies using data on pregnant women, their babies, and the H1N1 flu vaccine of 2009 are proving the flu shot is not just safe but it’s actually protective of the baby, too.

One such study, conducted by Better Outcomes Registry & Network (BORN) in Ottawa, Canada, produced “no evidence of adverse fetal effects,” according to the study’s lead author, Deshayne B. Fell, a BORN epidemiologist. She adds that the study has revealed “some evidence that there’s a benefit.” The June issue of the American Journal of Public Health carries the full report.

The BORN study involved 55,570 mothers giving birth to singletons. Of these women, 42 percent (23,340) received the H1N1 flu vaccine from November 2009 through April 2010. These vaccinations occurred during the second and third trimesters of each pregnancy. The vaccinated mothers were found to have:

  • Decreased risk of delivery before 32 weeks by 27 percent
  • Decreased risk of stillbirth by 34 percent

These findings lead the medical research team to conclude that vaccination produced a significant protective relationship between the vaccine and fetal outcome.

The research findings describe a higher vaccination rate among women who had pre-existing medical conditions than those without them. Pre-existing conditions are likely to make an individual more likely to catch the flu if exposed to the virus but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends a flu vaccine for every pregnant woman, regardless of her medical condition before pregnancy.

Be sure to discuss the advisability of getting a flu shot with your physician if there are any concerns or questions about vaccine safety. Even if no concerns exist, pregnant women should let their doctor know they are interested in the flu shot before getting vaccinated.

Flu shots come in two forms - an injection or nasal spray. The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy. Pregnant women should get the flu shot as early in flu season as possible.

Source: Fell, Deshayne B., et al. "H1N1 Influenza Vaccination During Pregnancy and Fetal and Neonatal Outcomes." The American Journal of Public Health. 26 Nov 2011. Web. Retrieved 7 Nov 2013.