Vaccine researchers have reported that pregnant women who got flu shots may be at higher risk of miscarriage. The unexpected and unexplained findings naturally create anxieties for OB-GYN practitioners. On the one hand, they want to keep their patients safe and informed. But they worry the news will encourage the “anti-vaxxer” movement, putting women and their babies at risk for influenza and other life-threatening diseases if they stop all vaccinations.
For now, there is no change in the recommendation that pregnant women get flu shots. The study contradicts previous research and so far researchers have no medical explanation for why the flu vaccine would trigger miscarriages. There will certainly be follow-up studies to determine if the risk is real and what it might mean for pregnant moms and immunizations.
Researchers were surprised and perplexed by the flu shot link
An article published in September in the medical journal Vaccine cites a troubling link between flu shots and miscarriages. During the 2010-11 and 2011-12 flu seasons, the research indicated a higher risk of miscarriage in pregnant women who had received influenza vaccinations compared to those who had not. Adding to the mystery, the elevated risk only occurred if the women had also received flu shots the previous year.
Researchers are concerned, but skeptical. They suspect the findings for those two years may be an anomaly. For starters, a similar study a decade earlier showed no miscarriage risk with flu vaccines. Also, no one has put forth a medical reason for the apparent link. Is there is some residual effect of flu shots that later interferes with gestation? Why would the second inoculation trigger a miscarriage but not the first? Or is it more likely that the data or the study were somehow flawed?
All agree that further study and discussion is warranted before raising the general alarm.
Medical experts are not hitting the panic button
One of the researchers is on an expert panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on vaccine policy. The panel has not changed its recommendation that pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy get flu shots. The slightly higher risk of miscarriage (if it is a real risk) does not outweigh the established danger of influenza, which can be fatal to infants and children. Between 2004 and 2012, more than 800 U.S. children died from complications of influenza.
And vaccine researchers and physicians are not backing off from the scheduled vaccinations for infants and children to prevent dread diseases such as polio, measles, whooping cough and tetanus. A Michigan mom was recently jailed for refusing to get scheduled vaccines for her son, in violation of a family court order. Doctors worry that a miscarriage scare would result in thousands of pregnant women likewise refusing flu shots, and a possible domino effect of refusing or delaying other vaccines.
Talk to your doctor if you have concerns
Are you pregnant or trying to having a baby? Rather than saying no to flu shots “just to be safe,” talk to your OB-GYN about the risks of the vaccine – and the risks of not getting immunized. Newborns are among the most vulnerable to influenza, but cannot get the flu shot until they are six months old. This is why mothers need to be immunized during pregnancy, to pass along the immunity.
Sources: Statnews.com, Centers For Disease Control and Prevention