VACCINES have been around for decades. These vaccines have made once epidemic diseases such as mumps, measles, rubella and polio an almost distant memory. However, with all the current vaccines available, is it safe to be vaccinated during pregnancy? What makes a vaccine safe? Can it be detrimental to you and your baby? Let's briefly discuss this.
What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism and is often made from weakened (live) or killed (inactivated) forms of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins. The agent stimulates the body's immune system to recognise the agent as foreign, destroy it, and “remember” it, so that the immune system can more easily recognise and destroy any of these microorganisms that it later encounters.
What vaccine is safe in pregnancy?
This truly depends on whether the vaccine is live or inactivated. Live vaccines (mumps, measles, rubella (MMR) and chickenpox) are made from live viruses that potentially could have a detrimental impact on the developing foetus. Though there are limited studies with live vaccines and pregnant women, it is recommended for them to avoid these vaccines. Most Jamaican women are already immunised against MMR as they received this vaccine earlier in life. If a live vaccine is needed, it is recommended that it is received at least a month before conception.
However, there is one exception for a live vaccine – yellow fever. The yellow fever virus is still endemic in some parts of the world, and the risks of exposure to the yellow fever virus are thought to outweigh the risks of vaccination during pregnancy.
Hepatitis A, B and tetanus are not live vaccines and are safe and recommended in pregnancy for women who are at risk of getting these diseases. These include sex workers and IV drug users (for hepatitis). The flu shot (influenza vaccine) is recommended for pregnant women regardless of their travel plans. A pregnant woman can deteriorate very rapidly even with a common flu, so seasonal shots when available in pregnancy should be received. These shots are usually available yearly and most pregnancies will need only one shot. Please note, the nasal spray flu vaccine is a live vaccine and should be avoided.
Though not a common problem in Jamaica, the whooping cough vaccine is also recommended and immunity can be passed on to the baby.
Though the HPV vaccine is not a live vaccine and contains virus-like particles, there is not enough data available to suggest its safety in pregnancy. The manufacturers recommend getting full dosage (three shots over six months) prior to conceiving and not to receive the vaccine whilst pregnant.
Whether pregnant or not pregnant, consult your health care provider re vaccines and receiving them.
Dr Daryl Daley is a cosmetic gynaecologist and consultant OBGYN at Gynae Associates, 23 Tangerine Place, Kingston 10, and shops 46-50, Portmore Town Centre. He can be reached at 929-5038/9, 939-2859, 799-0588 or firstname.lastname@example.org .