No one wants to come down with flu, but this common, seasonal illness can be more than just a slight inconvenience for expectant mothers. More prone to severe illness and extreme nausea and vomiting, pregnant women may become dehydrated or malnourished. In some cases, this may even require hospitalization. Since high fevers during pregnancy have been linked to an increased risk of neural tube defects in babies, the baby may also be at risk if the mother contracts the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a flu shot before or at the start of the season to reduce the risk of complications for both mother and baby. Said to reduce the risk of contracting the flu by as much as 60 percent, the vaccine is touted as the “best protection against the flu.” But it appears that the CDC may have made a grave mistake.
Published by the CDC themselves, a recent study revealed that expectant mothers may have an increased risk of spontaneous miscarriage if they receive the flu shot. Overall, researchers determined that the risk during the entire study period was 2 percent higher for mothers who received a flu vaccine during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 flu seasons. Most alarming, though, was that mothers who had received the H1N1 vaccine had experienced a risk that was 7.7 times greater than mothers who did not receive the same shot.
How could this have happened? What might be causing the risk?
Some believe the answer rests, not in the vaccine itself, but in a preservative known as thimerosal. Contained in nearly 70 percent of the 150 million flu vaccines that were given during the study period, thimerosal is supposed to be a “safe” version of mercury – at least that’s what the CDC claims – but experts are not so sure.
They say mothers should avoid all types of mercury, including supposedly “safe” versions because developing fetuses do not have a way to dispel it from their body. Worse yet, the mercury transports itself almost directly to the placenta and fetus. In fact, studies on mothers exposed to mercury have found 70 percent more of the substance in the umbilical cord than in the mother’s blood. The results can be tragic, with a host of potential complications for mom and baby, including (but certainly not limited to) spontaneous miscarriage.
Dr. George Lucier, National Toxicology Program Deputy Director, had the following to say about the encouragement of flu shots for pregnant women: “The developing fetus should NEVER be exposed to any amount of mercury, period!” In the words of senior CDC epidemiologist, Dr. William Thompson, “So I don’t know why they still give it [the flu shot] to pregnant women like that’s the last person I would give mercury to.”
And not even the manufacturers of the vaccine consider it safe. In fact, their own drug inserts, found with each injection bottle, state that the drug has not been extensively tested on pregnant women. So why are we giving it? Why has it been pushed for all these years, despite the lack of safety testing? Are the risks worth the potential benefits? And what should expectant mothers do as we head into our next flu season?
For now, it appears there are more questions than answers, but one thing is for certain: there will be a lot of expectant mothers refusing their flu shot this year. As a site that encourages vaccines to ensure safety, but also one that understands just how painstaking the trying to conceive process can be, we can only recommend that you speak with your doctor regarding the potential risks of a flu vaccine. We especially encourage this conversation for mothers who already have a higher risk of miscarriage, such as those with multiples, high-risk pregnancy, or other health-related conditions.