Doha, 26 September 2021: With the annual influenza (flu) season approaching, Hamad Medical Corporation is reminding pregnant women about the importance of getting vaccinated and preventing severe illness due to the flu.
The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says September and October are generally good times to be vaccinated against seasonal flu and that getting a flu vaccination can reduce a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40 percent.
Dr. Huda Al Saleh, Senior Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecologist and Executive Director of Quality & Safety at Women’s Wellness and Research Center explains that vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant women by about half and that pregnant women who get a flu vaccine are also helping to protect their babies from flu illness for the first several months after their birth, when they are too young to get vaccinated.
She highlights that a flu vaccination during pregnancy can help prevent the flu and maternal complications and that changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women (and people up to two weeks postpartum) more prone to severe illness from flu, including illness resulting in hospitalization.
“The flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Research has shown that getting a flu vaccine decreases a pregnant woman's risk of being hospitalized by an average of 40 percent. Similarly, the flu vaccine will prevent potential fetal health problems due to the flu. In addition, flu vaccines have been given to millions of people over many years with an excellent safety record,” observes Dr. Al Saleh.
According to her, a common flu symptom is fever, which may be associated with neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes for a developing baby. “Having a fever caused by the flu early in pregnancy might increase the risk of fetal birth defects. Getting vaccinated can help protect a baby after birth from flu as the pregnant parent passes antibodies on to the developing baby during pregnancy,” she notes.
“Infants are at increased risk of severe flu symptoms, but the flu vaccine can't be given until a baby is 6 months old. So, if you have a flu vaccine during pregnancy, the antibodies you develop will pass through the placenta and through the breast milk, if you're breast-feeding. These antibodies help protect your baby from the flu after birth,” Dr. Al Saleh states.
She cautions that the flu vaccine won't offer protection against COVID-19 even though they are both contagious respiratory illnesses, as they are caused by different viruses. “Getting a flu vaccine is especially important this season because the flu and COVID-19 cause similar common signs and symptoms. Flu vaccination could reduce symptoms that might be confused with those caused by COVID-19,” she points out.
Flu poses a threat to the health of Qatar’s population – particularly the risk groups. Every year many people are hospitalized with flu in Qatar. Clinical studies have shown it is safe and effective for people to have both the flu and COVID vaccine at the same time.
To protect yourself and your unborn child from complications of the seasonal flu and COVID-19, visit the MOPH’s website (moph.gov.qa) for more information or contact your primary health center directly.