Flu vaccine: pregnant women first

The seasonal influenza vaccination campaign has been launched, and it once again places a special emphasis on pregnant women. They have been a high priority group since 2010.


The H1N1 virus first appeared back in 2009. At the time, “we realized that it was less virulent for the majority of people than was originally thought, except for pregnant women, where the rate of morbidity was higher,” explains Yves Van Laethem, a virologist at Saint-Pierre hospital in Brussels. Consequently, in 2009, 14 deaths were recorded in Belgium, two of which were pregnant women. The risk of being hospitalized for flu is actually seven times greater if a woman is carrying a child.


And yet, despite the availability of booster shots, very few women take the plunge, although the statistics are scant. The most recent information covers the 2007-2009 period, during which just 0.8 to 2 per cent of pregnant females chose to be vaccinated. But that was before the spotlight was turned on this high-risk group.


The Belgian Superior Health Council advises pregnant women to get vaccinated as they enter their second trimester. Van Laethem confirms this: “Personally I favor vaccination in the first trimester, but certain gynecologists fear this could have a negative impact on the fetus, while in the second and third trimester, everything has already developed. The baby ‘just has to grow’. There are no risks at all at that stage. Some women are now being immunized against the H1N1 virus because they were exposed to it in previous years, but others are not. And for them, the virus remains as virulent as ever.”


10,000 women affected

Women whose second or third trimester coincides with the period in which influenza is rife have therefore been encouraged to get vaccinated. The same goes for those scheduled to give birth during that time. “In the first few weeks following the birth, women’s immune systems are still in a weakened state,” continues Van Laethem.


But will there be enough vaccines for all at-risk individuals? “There are around 110,000 pregnancies here every year. If we only target women whose second or third trimesters occur at the same time as flu season, then we’re looking at around 10,000 mothers-to-be in Belgium. That is tiny when compared to the total number of available doses.”



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