Can I get vaccinated while I’m pregnant?

Your health care provider will ask about your immunization history. If you are like most women, you haven’t thought about vaccines since you were in school. Your health care provider will review your immunization status and recommend a strategy to get you up to date. It is now recommended that all pregnant women, regardless of vaccination history, receive the Tdap vaccine (Tetanus Toxoid, Reduced Diphtheria Toxoid and Reduced Acellular Pertussis) between 21 and 32 weeks of gestation. You should be vaccinated with Tdap in every pregnancy. This recommendation is due to a recent increase in pertussis outbreaks across Canada. Pertussis is a transmissable respiratory illness that poses the greatest risk to very young babies. Once you are vaccinated, your body will make antibodies that provide protection to your newborn. The vaccine is safe for the mother and the fetus.

Many other vaccines are also safe during pregnancy, but some are not given to pregnant women due to the theoretical possibility of some risk to the fetus. These are “live” or “live-attenuated” vaccines and include measles, mumps, rubella, yellow fever, and varicella. Ideally, these vaccines would be given at least 4 weeks prior to becoming pregnant. Even though women are not usually given these vaccines in pregnancy, there are very few studies of risk to the fetus. In some cases, it may be safer to get one of these vaccines than risk infection, such as during an outbreak.

What about the flu shot?

Women who get the flu during pregnancy are at higher risk of serious complications. A pregnant woman’s flu symptoms may also be worse than those of a non-pregnant woman. Women who are pregnant therefore have even more to gain from influenza vaccination which substantially reduces the risk of getting infected. It is recommended that all pregnant women get a flu shot during flu season, to protect both you and your baby. If you do get the flu during pregnancy, you should be treated with the anti-viral medication Tamiflu.

What about other vaccines?

While pregnant some may be at increased risk of contracting illnesses that are preventable through vaccination. These include hepatitis A and B infection, and bacterial meningitis caused by meningococcus or pneumococcus. Some possible risk factors include travel to an area where these infections are common, close contact with an infected person, and being immunocompromised. Talk to your health care provider for more information.