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Not Receiving Influenza Vaccinations Increases Infant Mortality

Monday, July 8th, 2013

There has been a lot of talk about vaccinations in the past several years, and the camp of people on the side of going vaccination-free is getting bigger every year. That is something that frightens me as a doctor, as vaccinations are the single most effective way to prevent disease, not just among individuals but also among the general population, known as herd immunity.  Vaccination acts as a “firewall” in the spread of disease.  In herd immunity, the more folks that are vaccinated against a contagious disease, the less likely a single individual will become infected.

However, part of being a doctor is a willingness to look at all the evidence as it is presented to you. As the debate about vaccinations continues, an increasing number of researchers are looking at the effects that vaccinations have on individuals, and whether they have the potential to do more harm than good among certain groups.

Pregnant women are a group of major concern. There are a lot of steps and preventative measures that a woman must take in order to maintain the health of her child while she is pregnant, and vaccinations have always been recommended to prevent the devastating effects of the Influenza virus. Doctors in one study have conducted research on pregnant women and the influenza virus, as well as the mortality rates in the infants of those that choose not to be vaccinated.  While vaccinations against the Influenza virus pose no significant threat to women or to their unborn children, women who go without the vaccination show much higher rates of infection, and those that were infected show much higher rates of fetal mortality.  Another vaccine, known as Tdap, for tetanus, diptheria and pertussis (whooping cough), should be administered to all pregnant women in their third trimester (27 weeks to 36 weeks) in order to maximize the maternal antibody response and passive antibodies that will protect the newborn.

The results are not surprising to doctors, but they are worrying when you take into consideration the fact that this year, many women will choose not to be vaccinated, and will choose not to vaccinate their children. While many trends are silly but otherwise harmless, this “popular” trend could be absolutely devastating. There are certain vaccinations that should not be performed during pregnancy, such as measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), varicella (chickenpox), zoster (shingles), anthrax, BCG (tuberculosis), Japanese encephalitis, typhoid, yellow fever and smallpox, but women should trust their doctors to guide them in the right direction when it comes to making these decisions about the necessary vaccinations.  Choosing to vaccinate against Influenza, even while pregnant, poses virtually no risks. Choosing not to vaccinate could be a big mistake.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.