Why you should get immunised against influenza

Influenza immunisation of pregnant women is recommended by the World Health Organization
Vaccination against influenza has been shown to be highly beneficial for pregnant women and their unborn babies. New Zealand is not alone in this recommendation. Influenza vaccination for all pregnant women is currently recommended by the World Health Organization and many health authorities including those in the USA, Australia and many European countires.

Immunising a pregnant woman offers protection both to the mother, the unborn baby and to the newborn baby. And it is free for you (usually early March to 31 July each year).

You are at risk of Influenza while pregnant

Influenza is not a cold. It can be a dangerous illness that can pose a very serious risk to your life and that of your unborn baby. There are a number of influenza related complications that can affect development in the womb and can even lead to miscarriage or premature birth.

There are a range of changes that occur during pregnancy (such as changes in immunity) which may put pregnant women at higher risk. New Zealand research shows that pregnant women are nearly 5 times more likely to be admitted to hospital when suffering from influenza than women who are not pregnant.

Influenza is dangerous

There are a number of factors that make influenza dangerous to an unborn baby. The influenza virus does not actually cross the placenta to infect your baby, the danger comes from your own body as it fights the illness.

Danger to Mum

  • Being pregnant and getting influenza means you are at increased risk of pneumoniona
  • You are nearly 5 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with influenza compared to a non-pregnant woman

Danger to Baby

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Miscarriage/still birth
  • Birth defects

Avoid flu during pregnancy brochure
Why you should get immunised against the flu - Questions and Answers

Influenza survivor Kim Neho – Influenza and Pregnant Women

Kim Neho watches her seven-month-old twins rolling around the floor trying to sit upright in their Kaitaia home and, as she does every day, counts her lucky stars she is still around to witness these milestone moments.

Rewind seven months and she was lying in a coma at death’s door, her body ravaged by influenza and a range of other complications, surrounded by her husband, three kids and, nuzzling into their mother, her newborn twins, who she was yet to meet (Courtesy of the Northland District Health Board - Media Release)

Proven safety record for pregnant women

The influenza vaccine has been used for many years for pregnant women with no safety concerns and can be given during any trimester of pregnancy. There is no increased risk of reactions to the vaccine for pregnant women or their unborn babies.

Immunisation during pregnancy also protects babies after they are born

Newborns and young infants have higher rates of influenza and hospitalisation than other children but are too young to respond effectively to influenza immunisation. However, if you have been immunised in pregnancy you are likely to pass on some protection to your newborn baby (in part by passing antibodies across the placenta).

This can give some protection for your baby and reduce their risk of catching influenza in their first few months of life.

Studies have shown that babies born to mothers who received the influenza vaccine while pregnant are less likely to be hospitalised with influenza than babies whose mothers did not receive the vaccine.*

The influenza vaccine will not harm your unborn baby

It may be reassuring to know that the influenza vaccine does not actually cross the placenta into your baby. The vaccine simply stimulates your own immune system to make antibodies that can fight off the virus.

The good news is that the protection from immunisation during pregnancy is also passed on to your baby so they are born with some protection against influenza for the first few months of life. Newborns and young infants have higher rates of influenza and hospitalisation than other children, so the protection they receive from you in the womb could make all the difference.

Maternal influenza immunisation protects two high-risk groups with one vaccine dose – pregnant mothers and their babies.

Some Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to immunise?

The influenza vaccine can be given at any time during pregnancy. It is preferable to give the vaccine as soon as the vaccine is available (usually from early March) well before the start of the influenza season. The funded vaccine is available through to 31 July.

How many doses do I need?

Just one dose of influenza vaccine is required each year.

I’ve had a history of miscarriage. Is it OK to receive the vaccine?

Yes. The influenza vaccine does not increase the risk of miscarriage. However, catching influenza can increase the risk.

I am pregnant and want the influenza vaccine but I have a cold, should I still get it?

If you don’t have a high fever and are only experiencing a cold, runny nose or sniffles, it’s okay to receive the vaccine. However, if you’re very unwell, wait until you are better. If in doubt, check with your Lead Maternity Carer, GP or Practice Nurse.

I have just had my baby, can I have the influenza vaccine and will it protect my baby if I am breastfeeding?

Yes, it is safe for you to have the influenza vaccine. Breastfeeding may also offer some initial protection to your baby. However your baby will have more protection if you are vaccinated in pregnancy.

Is the influenza vaccine a live vaccine?

No. The seasonal influenza vaccine does not contain any live virus; it is completely inactivated and cannot give you influenza.

Is there thiomersal (mercury) preservative in the influenza vaccine?

No. Vaccines used in New Zealand are preservative free.

I had the influenza vaccine last year, why do I need it this year?

Yearly immunisation is recommended for two reasons: first, because protection lessens over time: and second, because each year influenza can be caused by different influenza viruses. The strains in the vaccine are frequently changed to respond to the changing virus pattern.

I am pregnant and work with children, should I have the influenza vaccine?

Yes. Influenza infection rates are generally highest in children, and they are a major source of the spread of influenza. The influenza virus may be found in respiratory secretions (breathing, coughing and sneezing) for two weeks or longer in children. In particular, young infants are at high risk of influenza so it is important to immunise those around them to stop the spread of influenza to them.

* Benowitz I. et al, Influenza Vaccine for Mothers Protects Infants, CID 2010:51, 1355-1361.