Share on Pinterest
CDC officials are urging pregnant women to get vaccinated, as the flu and whooping cough can be deadly for infants. Getty Images

We could be on track for a rough flu season because of what scientists are seeing happening in Australia.

So, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is already sounding the alarm for pregnant women.

Agency officials say most expectant mothers aren’t getting the flu shot or the whooping cough vaccine, and they’re urging them to do so because influenza and whooping cough can be deadly for infants.

A new CDC report states that only 1 in 3 mothers-to-be in the United States is getting both a flu shot and a Tdap, the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine.

The agency surveyed nearly 2,100 women, ages 18 to 49, who were pregnant sometime between August 2018 and April 2019.

Among the findings, women whose doctors and nurses offered or recommended vaccines had the highest vaccination rate.

African American women had lower vaccination rates than women of other races. They were also less likely to have had a healthcare provider offer or refer them for vaccinations.

“I want to reinforce that all expectant mothers should be up-to-date with recommended vaccinations as part of their routine prenatal care,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield in a news release.

“CDC strongly recommends that health care providers speak with moms-to-be about the benefits of safe Tdap and flu vaccination for their health and the well-being of their babies,” Redfield added.

Doctors on the front lines of prenatal care say it’s an uphill battle they’ve been waging for years.

“The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, through its Immunization Expert Work Group, has been working diligently to address maternal immunization and was instrumental in elevating the rates from 15 percent in 2010 to around 50 percent today,” said Dr. Christopher Zahn, MPH, vice president of practice activities at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“However, it is still of major concern that over the past several years we have been unable to move the needle beyond this current rate. This shows that we still have more work to do in educating pregnant women about the safety and efficacy of the flu and Tdap vaccines,” he told Healthline.

The CDC report said pregnant women who chose not to get vaccinated often believed the flu vaccine wasn’t effective or they didn’t think it was safe.

“This proves that there are still a lot of myths and misperceptions about vaccines that are recommended in pregnancy, and they need to be combatted and addressed head on if we hope to make progress in increasing maternal immunization rates,” Zahn explained.

Some doctors say they’re also up against a new challenge, the anti-vaccination movement.

“Despite our efforts to educate and inform pregnant mothers and others about the benefits of vaccines, we are still confronted with the pervasive claims presented by anti-vaxxers who are basing their unsubstantiated claims on research they conducted on Google or talking to friends,” said Dr. Gina L. Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California.

“What they haven’t seen or researched are the heartbreaking consequences as a result of expecting and new mothers not getting these vaccines,” she told Healthline.

The CDC says it takes about 2 weeks after a pregnant woman is vaccinated for her to develop antibodies to the flu and whooping cough.

Those antibodies then cross through the placenta and transfer to the baby, so the infant is born with antibodies that provide protection for the first few months of life.

That’s especially important in whooping cough because an infant can’t get their own vaccine for 2 months. The report says 69 percent of reported whooping cough deaths occur in babies less than 2 months old.

The flu vaccine also protects infants and mothers.

The report says babies less than 6 months old are at the highest risk of all children for being hospitalized for the flu. And that women with the flu are twice as likely to be hospitalized if they’re pregnant.

“When you are pregnant, you are in an immune-deficient state, so if you get the flu or any other illness, you are more likely to get very sick or even die from it,” Posner said.

The CDC recommends women get a flu vaccine at any time during their pregnancy.

They’re advised to get a Tdap or whooping cough vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy.

The CDC also says women should talk to their doctor about any questions or concerns they may have.