Expectant moms' flu shots protect newborns



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Posted on October 30, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Updated Saturday, Oct 30 at 12:14 PM

After her newborn's pediatric visit, new mom Jennifer made one more stop, to Seattle Children's flu vaccine clinic.

"I came to get my flu vaccine so that hopefully I don't get the flu and don't share it with her," she said.

At just 11 weeks old, baby Minnie can't get a flu shot. Research shows the vaccine isn't effective for babies under six months of age. It can be a risky interval explains Seattle Children's pediatrician Dr. Danielle Zerr.

"When babies get the flu they can develop high fever. They can develop a respiratory infection or an infection in their lungs that makes it difficult for them to breathe," she said.

Dr. Zerr is an associate professor of pediatrics at Seattle Children's. She said a new study suggests there's a way moms can lower influenza's toll on babies - by getting the shots before they're even born.

"When a pregnant woman is vaccinated for influenza, the antibodies that her body produces are passed to the baby through the placenta," she said.

The study was released early online. It will appear in the February 2011 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. It showed newborns of moms who got a flu shot during pregnancy had a significantly lower chance of getting the flu, and less risk of landing in the hospital from flu complications.

Minnie may already be less likely to get one flu strain. Her mother Jennifer got the H1N1 vaccine early in her pregnancy. Dr. Zerr said there's something else mothers can do.

"Breast-feeding is another way for babies to gain some level of protection from their mother's immune system," she said.

It was music to Jennifer's ears.

"Anything I can do to keep her healthy, and anything other parents can do to keep their babies healthy is just better for everybody."

Dr. Zerr reassured expectant moms that flu shots are safe for pregnant women. But she said those who worry about the preservative thimerosal in the vaccines can get one that's preservative free.