November 12, 2010

Flu Shot Safe, Recommended For Pregnant Women

A U.S. government study found no unusual complications among pregnant women who have received the flu shot in the past 20 years.

Researchers found that between 1990 and 2009 there were 175 reports of possibly vaccine-related medical complications among pregnant women submitted to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

Most of the reports were considered "non-serious," while some were of miscarriages and stillbirths.  However, the numbers were substantially lower than the average rates of those complications in the general population.

VAERS is a vaccine-safety surveillance system run by the federal government that allows anyone to report health problems that develop after a vaccination.

The problems reported to VAERS are not necessarily caused by vaccination, so its system does not prove cause-and-effect.  One of its goals is to help health officials spot new, unusual or rare side effects that may go undetected in the relatively small clinical studies done before and after a vaccine's approval.

The safety of the flu shot has been studied in about 10,000 pregnant women, with no evidence that it presents a particular risk in this group.

Lead researcher Dr. Pedro L. Moro of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention told Reuters Health that these latest findings  "add to the existing evidence that the (flu shot) is safe for pregnant women."

Public health officials and medical groups recommend that all pregnant women receive the flu shot but not the nasal spray flu vaccine.

Pregnant women are more likely to become seriously ill from flu infection and need hospitalization.

The CDC says pregnant women accounted for one in 20 deaths from H1N1 influenza in 2009.  By comparison, only one in 100 women were pregnant in the population.

Moro said that is why pregnant women are one of the "target gropes" particularly encouraged to get the flu shot.

Research indicated that no more than one-quarter of pregnant women in the U.S. got vaccinated during recent flu seasons.  Moro and his colleagues write in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology that the reasons are not clear, but doubts about the safety of the flu vaccine could be at work.

The most common side effects of the flu shot are pain and swelling at the injection site, short-lived fever and muscle aches, and throat or eye irritation.  According to CDC, serious, life-threatening allergic reactions are possible, but very rare.

About 74 million doses of flu vaccine will be available for the 2010-2011 flu season in the U.S.


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