At The Women's Center, we are often asked whether pregnant women and seniors should receive the flu shot. Flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum) more prone to severe illness from flu, as well as to hospitalizations and even death. Pregnant women with flu also have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery.
Getting a flu shot is a first and most important step in protecting against flu. The flu shot given during pregnancy has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby (up to 6 months old) from the flu. The nasal spray vaccine should not be given to women who are pregnant, but it's very important to understand that shots are a safe way to protect the mother and her unborn child from serious illness and complications of flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend an annual flu shot for everyone aged six months or older, with rare exceptions. Nearly 24,000 deaths each year in the U.S., on average, are the result of influenza, CDC estimates.
Nearly two-thirds of hospitalizations for influenza-related illnesses and about 90 percent of flu-related deaths occur among people 65 or older, according to the agency. After seniors, the highest rates of flu-related complications and hospitalizations occur in young children and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions.
Immunized seniors had a 33 percent reduction in risk of flu-related illness associated with more young adults being vaccinated; unvaccinated seniors had only a 13 percent decline in risk. This means that elderly adults who were proactive to try to prevent influenza still benefited from communitywide vaccination.
Even though elderly immune systems have a weaker response to the flu vaccine, the study team speculates that seniors who get a flu shot might require proportionately more encounters with infected individuals in their community to contract flu. Thus, if more nonelderly adults in the community are vaccinated, cases of flu would be expected to fall more quickly among vaccinated seniors than unvaccinated ones.
As always, speaking to your health care providers is the best way to fully understand the benefits and potential risks in receiving a flu shot. We strive for close relationships with all of our patients so we can provide the best in your personal health care.
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