The importance of getting vaccinated during pregnancy is well established among the scientific community. Influenza (flu), whooping cough (Tdap), and COVID-19 vaccines given during pregnancy protect both mom and baby, who receive essential antibodies through the placenta. These antibodies protect the baby until they can be fully vaccinated themselves. Studies have shown that getting a flu shot reduces a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40%. And, since children younger than six months of age aren’t able to get a flu shot, getting vaccinated during pregnancy is essential to protecting your baby in the first months of life.
In my 27 years at the non-profit organization, Vaccinate Your Family, I have met far too many families who lost loved ones to diseases such as COVID, whooping cough, and the flu. In fact, my own precious son was hospitalized due to complications from flu and asthma in his first and second years of life (before annual flu vaccination was recommended for that age group). There’s nothing worse than having your child in the ICU as you watch helplessly while he struggles to breathe, eat, and hydrate.
Sadly, about 7 in 10 deaths from whooping cough are among babies younger than two months old and most children who get sick with whooping cough will do so from a family member. And, according to several studies COVID-19 during pregnancy increases the risk of delivering a preterm (before 37 weeks) or stillborn infant.
According to American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG, Black and Hispanic pregnant women have higher rates of illness and death from COVID-19 than other pregnant women. This is not due to biological differences, but instead the social, health, and economic inequities that increase their risk of illnesses. A recent report by Manatt Health found that vaccination rates during pregnancy are lower among people covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) than among people with private health insurance. People who lack insurance are also impacted and at greater risk—unfortunately, the fragmented policies in our healthcare system create barriers for providers as well.
While there’s some good news in the months to come, as all vaccines will soon be covered under Medicare, we have much to do to improve Medicaid and CHIP access. Working together we can expand access to all pregnant individuals who are eligible for vaccines under the Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) by allowing OBGYNs and pharmacists to administer vaccines.
Most importantly, we can all become champions and advocate to ensure all moms are aware of the importance of vaccines during pregnancy. Learn more about how important prenatal vaccines are for both mom and baby and encourage your friends and loved ones to be vaccinated during every pregnancy.
Amy Pisani is a leading authority on vaccines for all age groups. For twenty-five years she has served as the Executive Director of Vaccinate Your Family, which was founded in 1991 by Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Betty Bumpers, wife of Senator Dale Bumpers. Amy leads the group in legislative education, building alliances with like-minded interests, working with the media to ensure science-based reporting on vaccines, and educating the public through various mediums. You can learn more and support Vaccinate Your Family here.