I didn't get vaccinated against the flu while I was pregnant, and that was bad. Luckily, I didn't catch the flu, but if I had, the consequences could have been severe. In my defense, my OB-GYN never offered me a flu shot — and in the crush of blood draws and ultrasounds, I honestly forgot such a thing existed. I've since learned just how severe the flu can be for pregnant women, and it's scary. So can you get the flu shot at your OB-GYN's office? Probably, but if you don't, it's time to take matters into your own hands.
According to What To Expect, all doctors can give shots, but different offices keep different vaccines on hand. If you're hoping to get a vaccine at the office that's become your second home (by my last trimester, I knew the names of all my doctor's cats, and that she trimmed her hedges into animal shapes), it's wise to call ahead to make sure they stock it in advance. In many cases, they'll have a flu shot ready and waiting. According to Share Care, about half of OB-GYNs consider themselves primary care providers (PCPs) because most women don't see multiple doctors in a year unless they develop other problems. So OB-GYNs are used to talking blood pressure, diet, and yes, the seasonal flu.
In the event that your OB-GYN doesn't stock this vaccine, you should head to your local drugstore or see your family practitioner to be your own best advocate. If you're pregnant — and I can't stress this enough — getting vaccinated against the flu is incredibly important.
"Changes in the immune systems of pregnant women make them more likely to develop severe complications of influenza, particularly influenza pneumonia," explains James Byers, MD, an OB-GYN at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, in an email to Romper. "Otherwise healthy pregnant women are five times more likely to die from the flu than others in the population. For this reason, pregnant women are the highest priority in vaccination programs."
Sadly, the data shows that pregnant women aren't getting vaccinated against the flu, despite needing it so badly. According to Amesh Adalja, MD, who studies pandemics and infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, vaccination levels among the general public have been rising each year, but gaps still exist. One of those gaps is pregnant women; another is healthcare workers.
Nevertheless, all pregnant women should be vaccinated against flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Adalja emphasizes that the flu vaccine isn't harmful. The inactive form of the virus in the vaccine can't even cause flu, and the protection it provides is invaluable — possibly even life saving. So why aren't more women lining up for this shot? Adalja explains:
"There is a hesitancy in pregnancy around any type of medication being administered. But it’s not just limited to pregnant women. Some physicians don’t offer the vaccination to pregnant women, for very erroneous reasons. There are some vaccines you don’t give to pregnant women, but the flu is not one of them ... the best way to protect yourself during pregnancy is to get vaccinated against flu. Sometimes, that gets lost."
Personally, I assumed that if I needed any type of vaccine, my doctor would give it to me — or at least recommend it. I don't know why I didn't receive a flu vaccine during the course of my prenatal care, but I certainly won't let it happen again. Next time, I'll bring that up to my doctor, and do a better job of advocating for myself during flu season.
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