Soon to be mommies are up for some of their stressful times, since it seems they’re bombarded with all sorts of contradictory information how to deliver their babies as healthy and safe as possible. After labor, there are other things to consider as well: the baby should sleep on his back, car seats are safer for newborns etc etc. The most important message mommies are missing, however, is that pregnant women and their babies need vaccines to stay healthy, according to  Saad Omer, a researcher the Royal Society for Public Health.

Parents and vaccines

Pregnant-woman-injection-image

Credit: Total Assist

“When you start talking about childhood vaccines with parents after their babies are born, it is already too late,” he says. “Young parents are more receptive when they are pregnant. There are already lots of messages that are targeted to them during pregnancy, such as breastfeeding and safety. We need to add mother and child vaccinations to that.”

Omer and colleagues were among the first to prove babies born during flu season (October 1 to May 31) and whose mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy were less likely to be premature or small for their gestational age than babies born to unvaccinated mothers. In another study, Omer demonstrated that vaccinating pregnant women against influenza also protected the newborn babies. Thanks to his work,  the World Health Organization now recommends the use of the influenza vaccination globally, especially among pregnant women.

“Vaccinating pregnant women is especially important in developing countries,” he says. “Here in the United States, premature babies go to the NICU. In many parts of developing countries, there is no NICU. Worldwide, 1 million deaths are associated with preterm births.”

But why aren’t enough women doing it? According to Omer, it all stats with health care providers. Women are more likely to get vaccinated during pregnancy and more likely to have their children vaccinated if their health care provider recommends doing so.

“Health care providers are the most trusted source of immunization information,” Omer says. “How physicians approach vaccination with parents has an impact on vaccination update rates. If vaccination is treated as a routine part of care, then children are more likely to get boosters.”

Vaccine noncompliance, or vaccine refusal, raises everyone’s risk of disease, he notes. “Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, influenza, and pertussis often start among persons who forego vaccinations, spread rapidly within unvaccinated populations, and also spread to other subpopulations.”

Oddly enough, fewer people are vaccinating themselves or their children. In 2010, a pertussis outbreak in California was thought to be due to a waning immunity from vaccines, but Omer and team were the first show that something else was at play. They found areas with high rates of children entering kindergarten with a nonmedical exemption for vaccines were 2.5 times more likely to be living in a pertussis cluster. The state’s rate of nonmedical exemption more than tripled during the 10 years prior to the outbreak. Why? Well, have you seen the anti-vaccine posts on facebook and elsewhere on the net? There you have it.

As far as I can tell, it all started with a claim – later proven wrong on numerous occasions – that vaccines cause autism in children. In 2007, nearly 5,000 parents of autistic children filed a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that childhood vaccines (specifically the mercury-containing thimerosal in the vaccines) caused their children’s autism. To this day vaccination skepticism still lingers, despite pseudoscience rebuttals.  Thousands of parents have been frightened into rejecting or delaying immunizations for their children. The immunization rate has dropped, resulting in the return of endemic measles in the U.K. and various outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. children have died. Herd immunity has been lost. This is no joke, this is a serious threat to public health!

It’s believed 3% US parents are hardcore vaccine skeptics, while 25% are so-called “fence sitters” who may decline some but not all child vaccines, and they should be the focus of the public health community, Omer says. “We don’t want them to move into the refusal group.”

“The bottom line is that vaccines are still one of the most effective tools we have for preventing disease in children,” he adds. “Maintaining high levels of vaccine coverage will help ensure that we keep the progress we’ve made in eradicating or warding off childhood diseases.”

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