INFECTIOUS diseases carry real risks for pregnant women and their developing foetuses. Fortunately, more women are taking advantage of various vaccines, which offer protection to them and their unborn babies, even after birth.
This is why obstetrician, gynaecologist Dr Robyn Khemlani said that health care providers recommend that women planning to become pregnant take adequate steps to ensure that they are vaccinated before getting pregnant since some vaccines, if administered to a pregnant woman, can significantly compromise the health of the pregnancy and the foetus.
“Vaccines help protect you and your baby against serious diseases. You probably know that when you are pregnant you share everything with your baby. That means when you get vaccines, you aren't just protecting yourself, but you are giving your baby some early protection too,” Dr Khemlani explained.
She reasoned that while, in general, vaccines that contain killed (inactivated) viruses are safe when administered during pregnancy, vaccines that contain live viruses are not recommended for pregnant women. This is because live vaccines might be able to cross the placenta and infect the foetus.
“Vaccines that are recommended during pregnancy because of their safety profiles and their ability offer some amount of protection for the mother and baby during and after birth include the TDAP — which is designed to prevent whooping cough in babies and is given between weeks 27 and 36 — the Influenza shot, as well as the hepatitis A and B vaccines,” Dr Khemlani advised.
The flu (influenza) shot, she said, is made from an inactivated virus, which makes it safe for both you and your baby. However, Dr Khemlani recommends that you must avoid the influenza nasal spray vaccine, which is made from a live virus.
“Getting the flu shot when you are pregnant is the best way to protect yourself and your baby from flu-related complications for several months after birth. Changes in your immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make you more likely to get seriously ill from the flu. Catching the flu also increases your chances of serious problems for your developing baby, including premature labour and delivery,” Dr Khemlani advised.
The other vaccines recommended for all pregnant women are the tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis (Tdap). One dose of the Tdap vaccine, according to Dr Khemlani, can protect your newborn from whooping cough (pertussis), regardless of when you had your last Tdap.
“Tetanus toxoid and reduced diphtheria (Td) can also be given instead of the Tdap, although the Tdap vaccine is preferred. If the Tdap cannot be given, a Td booster during pregnancy is recommended if 10 years have passed since a previous Td booster,” she said.
The conventional recombinant hepatitis A and B vaccines can also be given during pregnancy if needed, since they are both inactive vaccines. This may be needed in patients who are unvaccinated, uninfected and who are at a high risk of getting hepatitis.
On the other hand, there are some vaccines that could have immense benefits for both the expecting mother and foetus. However, your OBGYN will recommend avoiding vaccines that contain live viruses during pregnancy because they pose a theoretical risk.
Dr Khemlani said that some live virus vaccines to avoid during pregnancy include the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, BCG (tuberculosis), smallpox vaccine, and the typhoid vaccines. She said that the Human papilloma virus, or HPV, vaccine is also not recommended during pregnancy and should be delayed until after pregnancy.
“If you're planning a pregnancy, it is important that you talk to your health care provider about any vaccines you might need beforehand. Live vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine, which could offer your baby protection from potentially harmful infections, should be given at least a month before conception,” Dr Khemlani advised.
She said that your partner and others who are in close contact should also get the flu vaccine to reduce the risk of exposing you and your baby to the flu.
As for women who have just given birth, Dr Khemlani said that these women are usually offered vaccines that they did not receive and could not because of their pregnancy. She said that this is safe, even for breastfeeding mothers.