A Sure Shot: The Flu Vaccine is Safe for Pregnant Women
Even as experts predict the worst of the flu epidemic could come this month, Dorothy Delphin worries about the pregnant women in the community who do not get their flu shot.
As the supervisor of the Figueroa WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Center in Los Angeles, Delphin makes sure the pregnant mothers who visit WIC learn about the flu and how dangerous it is to themselves and their babies.
“We ask whether they’ve received the flu shot,” she said. “If our pregnant moms say they plan to get their shot, we follow up with them at their next visit.”
The Figueroa WIC Center is one of 11 WIC centers managed by South Los Angeles Health Projects, or SLAHP. At each SLAHP WIC center, WIC educators talk to pregnant women and new mothers about the importance of getting a flu shot. The educators share written information and urge the women to talk to their doctors.
“If she has a serious case of the flu, her unborn infant could be born prematurely and be underweight” -Dr. Oliver Brooks
“We at South LA Health Projects are unique in that we include an intervention at our WIC centers not mandated by the state. We counsel pregnant women regarding immunization against the flu and follow up with them even after they’ve delivered,” said Rebecca Rona-Tuttle, director of communications for South LA Health Projects.
“It’s so important that pregnant women receive a flu shot,” said Dr. Oliver Brooks, a pediatrician and chair of the Immunize LA Families Coalition.
A pregnant woman is at greater risk than women who are not pregnant, according to Dr. Brooks.
“Her flu could lead to pneumonia and possibly respiratory distress, requiring hospitalization, or to dehydration, which can be very dangerous,” he said. “Both pneumonia and dehydration can lead to death.”
There’s also danger to her unborn infant. “If she has a serious case of the flu, her unborn infant could be born prematurely and be underweight,” Brooks said.
When a pregnant woman receives a flu shot, she passes along some immunity to her infant, Brooks said. Babies less than 6 months old are not given flu shots. When newborns catch the flu, they are in danger. They usually cannot fight the virus well.
“The infant could suffer severe respiratory illness, dehydration, pneumonia or seizures. The baby would need to be hospitalized,” Brooks said.
“The flu vaccine does not and cannot cause the flu,” Brooks added. “The flu shot is the best way to protect against the flu.”
According to a recent survey of Los Angeles County women who gave birth in 2012:
- Only one third of women giving birth in L.A. County received a flu shot during their pregnancy
Vaccination coverage was lowest among women who:
- were age 35 and under
- were African American
- had less than a bachelor’s degree
- lived in San Gabriel or Antelope Valley
- were covered by Medi-Cal during pregnancy
- received WIC services
According to the survey, pregnant women whose prenatal health care providers discussed influenza vaccine were about 18 times more likely to be vaccinated than women whose providers did not discuss vaccination.
WIC does not give flu shots or other immunizations. Instead, the public can obtain flu shots at doctors’ offices, medical clinics, pharmacies and flu clinics. People can phone 211 to learn the locations of County flu clinics.
Women and teenagers who are pregnant, have recently had a baby or are breastfeeding, as well as infants and children up to age 5, will qualify for WIC if they meet other requirements. Fathers, foster parents, grandparents and other guardians can also enroll an eligible infant or child in WIC.
For more information, the public can phone (310) 661-3080 or visit www.slahp.org.
Related Topics: Physical Health