Not enough Black and Hispanic women get flu and whooping cough vaccines while pregnant

The flu and whooping cough vaccines are safe and help reduce the risk of severe illness for mother and baby.

During pregnancy, there are two vaccines that women should get to help protect them and their unborn children. Unfortunately, many women in the United States are not getting vaccinated, especially if they are Black or Hispanic.

Just 61% of pregnant women got a flu shot during the 2019-2020 flu season, and only 40% also got the tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine to help reduce the risk of whooping cough infection, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey. When looking at Black and Hispanic women, only 53% and 67% got the flu shot, respectively. However, those who got both the flu and Tdap vaccine were much lower, at 23% for Black women and 25% for Hispanic women.

According to the CDC, “Factors including negative attitudes and beliefs about vaccines, less knowledge about and access to vaccines, and a lack of trust in health care providers and vaccines has been shown to contribute to lower vaccination rates in Black adults.”

“These numbers are just not high enough to protect women and their babies from severe illness,” said Jennifer C. Evans, M.D., MPH, system vice president, women’s and pediatric services for Norton Healthcare. “That’s why we’ve made a concerted effort to increase education and help all women get the vaccines they need.

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“In 2019, more than 81% of pregnant women coming to Norton Women’s Care received the flu shot, and 90% received Tdap vaccines.”

Vaccines help women and babies

The flu shot can be safely given at any time during a pregnancy, while Tdap is preferred during weeks 27 to 36.

“One of the most important things a pregnant woman can do  is get flu and whooping cough vaccines,” said Jamil T. Elfarra, M.D., specialist with Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “The flu can have extremely serious consequences if you are pregnant, so you want to do everything you can to prevent it.”

Infants receive the whooping cough vaccine at 2 months old, and the flu vaccine starting at 6 months old. Until then, they rely on antibodies from their mother to protect them.

“The majority of infants who get a severe illness from whooping cough, or pertussis, are 3 months and younger,” Dr. ElFarra said. “Since they cannot begin vaccinated until that 2 month time period, they are extremely vulnerable from getting the infection, most likely from family members and caregivers. The vaccine will help protect the baby, but also help keep the mother from getting pertussis and passing it to her baby after birth.

“Vaccines are extremely safe and also help protect your baby, since you’ll pass antibodies on during pregnancy as well as afterward through breastfeeding.”

If you are expecting, talk to your physician about these important vaccines. Anyone who is going to be around your baby, such as family members and anyone else providing care, should also receive the flu shot and make sure they received necessary pertussis vaccinations at least two weeks before they are around your baby.

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