Pregnancy and vaccination

Pregnancy and vaccination

By Mikaela G. Martinez-Bucu, M.D

Illustration by Ariana Maralit

A great way to start this year equipped and healthy is to update our vaccination status so that we can avoid incurring preventable diseases. But what if you are pregnant? No problem! Here are some frequently asked questions on the subject. We’ve also added a few vaccines that can be administered during pregnancy.

What are vaccines and how do they work?
Vaccines prepare the body to fight bacteria or viruses that cause infections by introducing specific molecules from these invaders into the body. These molecules, called antigens, trigger the defense mechanism of the body and activate an immune response. This enables the immune system to safely learn to recognize these antigens as hostile intruders, produce antibodies against them, and commit these molecules into memory as “uninvited guests.” Once exposed to the actual bacteria or virus, the immune system will recognize the antigens immediately and destroy the pathogen before it spreads and causes illness.

Vaccines can protect entire populations by developing what we call “herd immunity.” Herd immunity means that enough members of the community are vaccinated against a certain disease so that germs have a hard time transferring from one person to another. This makes it less likely for the population to contract the disease. Even those who cannot receive the vaccine yet can be protected by herd immunity. If a person gets sick, there is less likelihood for an outbreak to occur because the disease cannot spread via the immunized populace.

Vaccines prevent diseases that are harmful and even deadly. Some diseases when contracted during pregnancy can cause preterm delivery, grave birth defects for the unborn child, or even miscarriages. It is important to make sure that all your vaccines are updated before you try to conceive since some vaccines (those that are “live attenuated”) cannot be given during pregnancy.

Are some vaccines safe to receive during pregnancy?
There are vaccines which are safe during pregnancy and should be offered to every expectant mother. Pregnant women can get severely ill than nonpregnant women and can benefit from receiving the following vaccines:

1. Influenza. All adults should get the flu vaccine every year, including expecting moms. The flu shot can be safely given during any trimester of pregnancy. The antibodies created by the vaccine can cross the placenta and be passed on to the fetus, giving baby protection until he/she can receive the flu vaccine at six months of age.

2. Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap). This vaccine offers protection against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. It is safe to give Tdap between 27 weeks and 36 weeks age of gestation. Like the flu vaccine, Tdap creates antibodies that are passed on to the fetus, offering protection until the baby can get the vaccine when he/she turns two months old. This is important since newborns up to three months old have the highest risk of severe disease for whooping cough.

Pregnant women with unknown immunization status and who are at risk for developing certain infections due to travel or other circumstances should consider additional vaccines. Consult your obstetrician if the vaccine should be given while you are pregnant, or if it can be delayed until after you give birth.

Will I get sick if I get these vaccines during pregnancy?

There are vaccines that can be safely given during pregnancy, and these vaccines will not make you ill or cause harm to your unborn child.

The latest scientific researches show that these vaccines do not cause complications in pregnancy, birth defects, or autism in childhood.

Mikaela G. Martinez-Bucu, MD, FPOGS, FPSRM is a clinical associate professor at the UP College of Medicine-Philippine General Hospital and Active Consultant at Manila Doctors Hospital. She is a boardcertified obstetrician gynecologist and fertility specialist. She is an advocate for breastfeeding and Early Intrapartum and Newborn Care/EINC (Unang Yakap).

Tags: Ariana Maralit, M.D, Mikaela G. Martinez-Bucu, pregnancy, Vaccines