Vaccines save lives. Since the widespread use of vaccines the average life span of a human has increased by 30 years.
Vaccines are made of very small amounts of weak or dead germs. Those germs stimulate the production of antibodies to attack, weaken and destroy disease specific germs.
When you get a vaccination you are not only helping yourself, but the whole community. Germs are speed travelers. If enough people are vaccinated against the germ, it cannot travel through the community easily. Some people cannot be vaccinated such as people who have cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other health conditions. The rest of us get vaccinated to protect them against the death threat of measles, mumps, tetanus, rubella, pertussis, hepatitis B, polio and other diseases.
Because vaccinations have been effective at stopping the spread of those diseases some people believe they do not need to be vaccinated. Unfortunately those diseases still exist in our world. In this age of widespread travel we are now seeing a return of some of those diseases.
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Pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness from some vaccine preventable illnesses. The most prominent of those is the flu. There is even a benefit for the unborn baby if the mother receives the flu vaccine in the third trimester. Passive immunity via the placenta allows for a transfer of antibodies to protect the baby.
Making sure all of your vaccinations are up to date before you get pregnant is the ideal situation. For information on what is recommended from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices you can go to https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pregnancy/hcp/guidelines.html to get the latest information.
Live vaccines are not recommended during pregnancy.
There is no evidence that the growing baby is at risk if the mother receives inactivated vaccines, bacterial vaccines or toxoid vaccines, such as a vaccine against tetanus-diptheria.
Every pregnant mother is tested to see if she has an immunity to rubella. If the mother does not have an immunity to rubella and is exposed to rubella during the pregnancy there will be dire consequences for the baby. Some of the most common birth defects are deafness, cataracts, heart defects, intellectual disabilities and there are others. It is not recommended that the MMR vaccine be given during pregnancy because it is classified as a live vaccine. The non immune mother needs to be especially cautious about avoiding contact with anyone with a rubella infection.
Another possible complication from that scenario is if the mother has Rh negative blood and has a Rh positive baby. In that case the mother would need a shot of Rhogam, an immune globulin, after she delivers her baby. This is done to protect future babies the mother may have. However the immune globulin has the potential to interfere with the production of the antibodies the MMR vaccine is designed to stimulate. It is recommended by the CDC that if the mother does receive the MMR at the same time as the Rhogam she should be tested in 3 months to verify the MMR was effective.
If you are thinking about becoming pregnant have your immunizations up to date. The prenatal environment your baby grows in will affect them for the rest of their life.
Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.