What Your Health Care Provider May Not Tell You about the Flu Vaccine

Last week several well-respected, prestigious organizations released a joint statement urging health care providers to advise their pregnant and postpartum patients to take the 2010 seasonal flu vaccine. These organizations employ brilliant researchers, educators, clinicians, and public health experts. Their unified voice is hard to ignore.

Because of my job and my online activities, I have access to individuals at many of these organizations. In my search for evidence-based research behind flu vaccine recommendations, this statement gave me new hope that somebody at one of these organizations would point me in the right direction. I sent out an inquiry and was provided with the full text of a prospective, controlled, blinded, randomized study in the New England Journal of Medicine involving more than 300 pregnant women. Results showed a 63% reduction in laboratory-proven influenza (flu) illness in infants up to 6 months old, a 29% reduction in respiratory illness with fever in infants, and a 36% reduction in respiratory illness with fever in mothers. Sounds like a good deal.

Here’s the rub: among the list of study supporters was the National Vaccine Program Office, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Aventis Pasteur, Merck, Glaxo-Smith Kline, and Sanofi-Aventis. The National Vaccine Program Office was established to reduce the potential financial liability of vaccine makers due to vaccine injury claims. The rest of that list is pharmaceutical companies, aka potential vaccine makers. Did you know that in 2007, the vaccine industry was experiencing double-digit growth in sales? I don’t mean to suggest that these organizations are intentionally trying to dupe the American public. However, their organizational goals–preventing financial liability and making profits–seem like a giant conflict of interest to me. Even though this study comes from NEJM, I need more to convince me of the benefits of receiving a flu vaccine during pregnancy. This can’t possibly stand up to studies involving more than 40,000 mothers and infants that were not able to demonstrate flu vaccine effectiveness.

I’ve never been passionate about the flu vaccine before trying to make a reasonable decision about it for me and my unborn baby. I started this journey in search of evidence supporting the effectiveness of flu vaccination. But I’ve turned up empty-handed and stumbled onto a pile of disturbing information. To state it more accurately, I’m highly disturbed that the recommendations for flu vaccination are so strong despite the evidence being so iffy. I believe in the science of vaccination. I’m thankful for the eradication of diseases like smallpox. But seasonal flu is not smallpox, and it takes years of research and development to translate scientific theory into a a safe, effective product.

In conclusion, based on my research, I believe it is a rational decision to take or not take the flu vaccine during pregnancy. Flu infection carries known risks to mother and baby. Everyone should take steps towards prevention, including hand washing, good nutrition, rest, exercise, and if you so choose, the flu vaccine. I am shocked and outraged that women are not presented with the facts, or lack thereof, and given the opportunity to decide for themselves.

P.S.–I remain open to supporting research, personal experience, and logic to help further develop my knowledge on this issue. Fair, balanced, strong research is still on my most-wanted list.


About The Preconceptionist

Where personal experience meets clinical and cultural preconceptions about birth and women's health.
This entry was posted in First Trimester, Pregnancy, Rants, Vaccinations and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What Your Health Care Provider May Not Tell You about the Flu Vaccine

  1. Healthybun says:

    I agree 100% about the conflict of interest. Also, I learned recently that while the FDA has been recommending flu vaccines for pregnant women since the 1960s, the first study testing the effects of the vaccine on pregnant women was not completed until 2008, and it was only comprised of 340 subjects. The agency was effectively recommending an intervention that had never before been shown to be safe. Scary.

  2. davenoon says:

    A study involving 340 subjects is not too small to be statistically significant, for what it’s worth. In any case, clinical studies of the vaccine’s efficacy for pregnant women go back quite a bit father than the previous commenter suggested. A simple search through PubMed reveals numerous studies going back to the 1970s.

    There’s a new study out in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that essentially underscores the conclusions of the NEJM study cited in this post — conclusions that previous studies had also indicated. The overall efficacy of the flu vaccine is pretty well established in the medical literature. The mutability of the seasonal flu makes the vaccine a trickier matter than, say, for measles or pertussis, but the evidence is quite compelling that flu vaccines (a) reduce the incidence and severity of seasonal flu outbreaks; (b) provide levels of herd immunity protection for vulnerable populations (i.e., the elderly, newborns, etc.); and (c) pose no discernible risk to pregnant women or fetuses.

  3. Thanks so much, davenoon! I will definitely get my hands on that study.

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