Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data indicating that about two-thirds of pregnant women have not been vaccinated against the flu this season. As clinicians, we know that the flu shot is safe, effective and the best protection our patients have against influenza. It is our job to communicate these messages to all of our patients, especially pregnant women.
The flu vaccine is safe and recommended during all trimesters of pregnancy, especially the second and third trimesters, when there is an increased risk of severe disease, hospitalization and even death as a result of contracting the flu. By getting vaccinated, pregnant women can protect themselves while also providing protection to their babies through placental antibody transfer until they are able to be vaccinated at six months of age.
Despite the benefits of vaccination, the latest CDC data shows us that low vaccination rates among pregnant women are pervasive. They are not just low among all age groups, but also among women of different races and ethnicities, across all education levels and regardless of whether women have health insurance or not. Among white, black and Hispanic women, the vaccination rate is 35.9, 31.5 and 35.4 percent, respectively. Also, while roughly 39.1 percent of pregnant women with a college degree were vaccinated, that is only 4.4 percent higher than women with a high school education or less.
However, one interesting data point indicates that flu vaccination is highest among women who reported that their doctor offered or recommended the vaccine. Among women who visited a health care provider at least once since July 2017, 52.4 percent received the flu vaccine from a provider who offered it. Also, according to the data, 50.1 percent of pregnant respondents received their vaccination at their ob-gyn’s office, which far surpassed other locations, including other doctor’s offices (29.2 percent); the drugstore, supermarket or pharmacy (10.3 percent); and work or school (5.9 percent).
This indicates that we, as ob-gyns, have a lot more influence over our patients than we think we do and that they trust us when we counsel them on their health and well-being. By simply educating women about the benefits and recommending the vaccine or offering them the opportunity to get vaccinated, we have the power to increase vaccination rates among pregnant women in this country.
Four steps you can take today:
1. Educate all pregnant women about the flu vaccine and the severity of influenza disease.
2. Strongly recommend and offer flu shots to all patients in your practice, particularly pregnant women. Flu shots can and should be given as soon as the vaccine is available.
3. Document flu conversations and flu vaccine administration in your patients’ chart and, when possible, your state’s immunization information system.
4. Lead by example—educate and vaccinate yourself and your staff against influenza.
For more information and updates on the 2017-18 flu season, visit http://immunizationforwomen.org/2017-2018-influenza-season and http://immunizationforwomen.org/fluseasonnewsletter.