Many women, especially those undergoing fertility treatment, are leery of vaccinations. You’ve made it this far without getting seriously ill, right? Why rock the boat?
Actually, being properly vaccinated not only protects you but also your baby in the first months of its life. The good news is that vaccinations aren’t complicated. There are really only 3 vaccines that you shouldn’t get during pregnancy or fertility treatment. These are MMR, varicella, and herpes zoster.
The MMR stands for measles, mumps, and rubella. We know that contracting rubella during pregnancy is bad, and can result in birth defects in the baby. Therefore if you are planning to become pregnant, you should get this vaccine but avoid getting pregnant in the month you were vaccinated. And if you happen to get pregnant accidentally in the month you were vaccinated, don’t worry. There has never been a documented case of a mother contracting rubella from a vaccine and causing a problem with her baby.
Varicella is chicken pox. Some people have the idea that chicken pox is no biggie, because they had it and “got through it fine”. I’ve even heard of chicken pox parties, where parents expose their kids to a little Typhoid Mary so their kids will all get chicken pox and then be immune. But chicken pox can be a serious illness and can result in hospitalization for pneumonia or even death, particularly if the patient is a pregnant woman. Even milder forms of chicken pox can still result in a painful condition called shingles later in life. Fortunately, no one needs to get chicken pox in order to be immune. There is now a varicella vaccine that protects against chicken pox and is also recommended in women who have not had chicken pox and are considering getting pregnant. This vaccine is given in 2 doses 1 month apart and, like the MMR, is not recommended in pregnancy. You can even get the vaccine after you have been exposed if you do it right away, within 96 hours. Therefore, if you are undergoing fertility treatment, you would delay your treatment for two months while you are getting your vaccine. But the upside is that your antibodies will protect your baby both in the womb and after delivery from the more serious effects of chicken pox.
Herpes zoster is not commonly given in young women, so we won’t discuss it further here.
Many vaccines are actually recommended in pregnancy, because pregnant women are more susceptible to the disease than non pregnant women. Here are some of the more common ones that your doctor may recommend.
Influenza: The death rate from H1N1 “Swine flu” was 6 times higher in pregnant women than their non-pregnant counterparts. That’s 600%! It is safe in pregnancy because it doesn’t use a live virus and strongly recommended every year. It can be given prior to or during pregnancy and protects your baby even after birth.
Tdap is the vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. In recent years, there have been large outbreaks of pertussis, or whooping cough. Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that is treatable with antibiotics, but only if it is caught early. The usual course is 6 weeks of violent coughing and infants have the highest risk of death. Therefore, all adults who will be caring for a newborn should be vaccinated if they are not up to date. Tdap can be given safely in pregnancy during the third trimester or immediately postpartum.
Other vaccines, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis A, pneumococcus, and meningococcus are fine to get in pregnancy in high risk women. These are women who have suppressed immune systems, or are exposed to these diseases through work, travel, or lifestyle. These would be offered on a case by case basis.
In short, if you are thinking about getting pregnant, that is a good time to make sure your vaccines are up to date. And if you are already pregnant, many vaccines are not only safe, but will protect your baby from illness as well.
- Findings support safety of whooping cough vaccine for older adults (eurekalert.org)
- Three babies killed by whooping cough in biggest outbreak for 20 years (standard.co.uk)