Vaccinating mothers to protect babies

A recent study has shown that babies are significantly less likely to get the flu or be admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection in their first six months if their mother was vaccinated during pregnancy.

Having the flu can be a very unpleasant experience for parents and children alike. But young children, and babies in particular, are more likely to suffer complications resulting from influenza – the flu virus – than the general population. Unfortunately, infants cannot be vaccinated in the first six months of life. A recent study, however, has shown that babies are significantly less likely to get the flu or be admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection in their first six months if their mother was vaccinated during pregnancy.

Infections caused by influenza are generally more common among babies six to twelve months of age than in the first six months of life, possibly due to the protection offered by the antibodies transferred by the mother to her child during pregnancy or breastfeeding. However, in severe influenza seasons, the mother’s antibodies may not be sufficient and we often note an increase in complications among very young babies.

In a study conducted during a flu season and involving some 1,200 women and their babies, 17% of the infants were admitted to hospital for a flu or similar infection, 36% visited an outpatient clinic for a respiratory problem, and 48% were symptom-free and did not require medical help.

The investigators found that babies whose mothers had been vaccinated during pregnancy had a 41% lower risk of getting the flu and were 39% less likely to have to be admitted to hospital because of a flu or flu-like infection. Blood samples also showed that the babies whose mothers had been vaccinated had higher levels of influenza antibodies.

The flu vaccine is recommended for reducing pregnant women’s risk of complications, but this study seems to show that it also benefits infants who are too young to be vaccinated. Another good reason for pregnant women to get their influenza vaccination!

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