A new study of the effect of flu shots on pregnant women in the first trimester found no difference in the rate of birth defects than in non-pregnant women. According to a report by Reuters, a study of 9,000 pregnant women who got the flu shot found that about 2 percent had a baby with a major birth defect, such as a malformation in the heart or a cleft lip. This rate was identical to the rate among almost 77,000 pregnant women who did not get the vaccine.
The study also found that women who got vaccinated were less likely to suffer a stillbirth (a pregnancy loss after the 20th week) than unvaccinated women. Their newborns also had a lower death rate soon after birth compared with babies born to unvaccinated moms.
It was not clear if the flu vaccine deserves the credit. But Dr. Jeanne S. Sheffield, the lead researcher on the work, said it’s possible the vaccine helped by preventing severe cases of the flu.
“Can we say for sure that it’s the vaccine? No,” said Sheffield, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She added that these findings suggest that the flu shot is at least safe, and possibly has a benefit against stillbirth.
Despite recommendations to get the flu shot, most pregnant women do not. In the U.S., only between 10- 25% of pregnant women have been vaccinated each flu season over the last ten decades, Sheffield’s team notes. The study suggests safety worries are the reason.
Sheffield said it was amazing how many women are unaware that the flu itself is considered a risk during pregnancy. “The flu is a problem in pregnancy,” she said. “But we have a vaccine to prevent it. And it’s considered safe and effective in any trimester.”
A CDC study published last year found “no unusual patterns” of pregnancy complications or newborn health problems among U.S. women who received the flu shot between 1990 and 2009.
The study results were published in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
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