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Patient education: Vaccination during pregnancy (Beyond the Basics)

Patient education: Vaccination during pregnancy (Beyond the Basics)
Author:
Sigal Yawetz, MD
Section Editors:
Charles J Lockwood, MD, MHCM
Peter F Weller, MD, MACP
Deputy Editor:
Milana Bogorodskaya, MD
Literature review current through: Nov 2022. | This topic last updated: Jan 04, 2022.

INTRODUCTION — Vaccines are a way of teaching your body how to fight the germs (eg, viruses or bacteria) that cause infections. Thanks to vaccines, many fewer people get seriously ill or die from infections than in the past. When a person gets a vaccine, this is called "vaccination" or "immunization."

Vaccines work by stimulating your body to produce an immune response, including making antibodies that can fight infections and prevent you from getting sick. Some vaccines are safe to receive during pregnancy, while others should be given at least one month before getting pregnant or after the baby is born. Certain vaccines are recommended for all pregnant people, while others may be recommended only for those with certain medical conditions or risk for a particular infection.

General recommendations for vaccination in adults are discussed separately. (See "Patient education: Vaccines for adults (Beyond the Basics)".)

VACCINES RECOMMENDED BEFORE PREGNANCY — Anyone planning pregnancy should have received all routine vaccinations as recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (See "Patient education: Vaccines for adults (Beyond the Basics)".)

The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and the chickenpox (varicella) vaccines are particularly important for anyone who could get pregnant who is not already immune to these infections. These vaccines protect from infections that can harm the developing fetus or the pregnancy; however, these are live virus vaccines, and cannot be given during pregnancy or during the month prior to getting pregnant. Most American-born people of childbearing age and potential who received their routine childhood vaccines should already be protected. (See "Patient education: Vaccines for infants and children age 0 to 6 years (Beyond the Basics)".)

Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) — It is best to confirm that you are immune to these infections before getting pregnant. Your health care provider can determine if you are immune by reviewing your immunization records or with a blood test. If you are not immune, you should receive the MMR vaccine and then wait at least one month before trying to get pregnant. Contracting measles, mumps, or rubella (German measles) in early pregnancy can lead to a miscarriage. Rubella infection in early pregnancy can also cause birth defects, including deafness and defects involving the eyes, heart, and/or brain. Measles in adults may be more severe during pregnancy.

If you are pregnant, it is safe for your household members, such as your children, to receive the MMR vaccine.

If you are not immune to measles and are exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed measles while pregnant, contact your health care provider as soon as possible. There is treatment that can help reduce your risk from the exposure.

Varicella (chickenpox) — As with MMR, it is best to confirm that you are immune to the chickenpox (varicella) virus before getting pregnant. If you have never had chickenpox or the full varicella vaccine series, your health care provider can determine if you are immune by doing a blood test. If you are not immune, you should receive the varicella vaccine and then wait at least one month before trying to get pregnant. Getting chickenpox during pregnancy, especially early pregnancy, increases the risk of birth defects. Chickenpox anytime in pregnancy can cause serious complications for pregnant people, such as pneumonia.

It is possible to get chickenpox from exposure to a person with either chickenpox or shingles. If you are not immune to varicella and are exposed to someone with chickenpox or shingles while pregnant, contact your health care provider as soon as possible. They can assess your risk and decide if a treatment called varicella-zoster immune globulin (VariZIG), which can be given after an exposure, is appropriate for you.

Human papillomavirus — The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is recommended for all people 9 to 26 years of age who are not pregnant and for some nonpregnant people 27 to 45 years of age (those who could be exposed to HPV and were not previously vaccinated). The HPV vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy, although evidence suggests it is safe if a pregnant person receives it inadvertently (eg, before they knew they were pregnant). If you are pregnant and still need to receive or complete this vaccine series, the HPV vaccine can be given after you are no longer pregnant.

VACCINES RECOMMENDED FOR ALL PEOPLE IN EVERY PREGNANCY

Influenza (flu) — Pregnant people and young infants are at an especially high risk of developing complications of influenza. The injectable (intramuscular) seasonal influenza vaccine (the "flu shot") is recommended for all people who are or will be pregnant during the flu season. Getting the flu shot during pregnancy has no known harmful effects for the fetus. In addition to protecting pregnant people, it helps protect babies from influenza in the first six months after birth, before they are old enough to receive the flu vaccine themselves. The nasal spray form of the influenza vaccine should be avoided during pregnancy because it is a live virus vaccine. (See "Patient education: Influenza prevention (Beyond the Basics)".)

Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) — The tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis (whooping cough) or "Tdap" vaccine is recommended for pregnant people during each pregnancy, even if they have received it before. It should be given between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Newborns are at a particularly high risk for severe complications of whooping cough (pertussis), and this vaccine helps protect them from infection and complications. It is also recommended that anyone who will be around the baby, such as family members and caregivers (for example babysitters, including teens), make sure they got all their recommended whooping cough vaccines. If their shot is not up to date, they should get vaccinated.

VACCINES RECOMMENDED FOR SELECTED PREGNANT PEOPLE — Pregnant people who are at high risk of certain infections due to travel or other circumstance should consider additional vaccines.

Hepatitis A — Hepatitis A is a virus that can cause pregnancy complications, such as premature contractions or problems with the placenta. The vaccine carries no known risks to a developing fetus.

The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for pregnant people who are at risk for contracting hepatitis A. Risk for hepatitis A can include travel, health related behaviors, medical conditions, or an exposure during an outbreak. (See "Patient education: Hepatitis A (Beyond the Basics)".)

Hepatitis B — Hepatitis B is a serious infection that may cause chronic (lifelong) inflammation of the liver and can be passed to the fetus. A series of three hepatitis B vaccines is now routinely given during childhood, although many adults were not vaccinated as children. The vaccine carries no known risks to the developing fetus.

The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for pregnant people who are at risk for acquiring hepatitis B during pregnancy (eg, due to living with someone infected with hepatitis B) and for people who started the vaccine series before getting pregnant. (See "Patient education: Hepatitis B (Beyond the Basics)".)

Poliomyelitis — Poliomyelitis (polio) is caused by a virus that can lead to paralysis. Polio has been eliminated from many countries, but some areas of the world are still affected by large polio outbreaks. Pregnant people should avoid travel to areas where polio is present, when possible. (See "Patient education: General travel advice (Beyond the Basics)".)

A vaccine is available to prevent polio. However, polio vaccination is not usually recommended during pregnancy due to a lack of information about the vaccine's safety. If you cannot avoid travel to an area where polio is prevalent, consult with a travel medicine expert to determine whether you should get the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

Pneumococcus — Pneumococci are bacteria that are the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia and several other infections, including otitis media (middle ear infection) and meningitis. People at high risk for pneumococcal infections should receive the pneumococcal vaccines.

Ideally, the vaccine(s) should be given before pregnancy. However, the pneumococcal vaccines appear to be safe when given in the second and third trimesters (there is not enough information about the safety of the vaccines during the first trimester). (See "Patient education: Pneumonia prevention in adults (Beyond the Basics)".)

Yellow fever — Yellow fever is a viral disease spread by mosquitoes. It is associated with liver and kidney damage and hemorrhage and can lead to death. Outbreaks of this disease may occur in certain tropical regions of South America and sub-Saharan Africa. Also, documentation of a yellow fever vaccine is sometimes required to enter certain countries. If possible, travel to areas that have active yellow fever transmission should be avoided during pregnancy.

If such travel is not avoidable and the risk of yellow fever is determined to be high, immunization with a live virus vaccine may be considered during pregnancy. You should consult an infectious disease or travel medicine specialist to discuss your situation and whether vaccination is appropriate.

Other vaccines — Vaccines against a few other infections are available, including cholera, meningococcus, plague, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid, smallpox, and Haemophilus influenzae B. A health care provider can determine your risk of exposure to these illnesses and the need for vaccination during pregnancy.

There are two available vaccines to prevent shingles (zoster). One is a live vaccine, meaning it contains the live virus; the other is a nonlive "recombinant" vaccine. The live shingles vaccine should not be given to pregnant people and there is no safety information available for the recombinant vaccine, which is newer. The recombinant vaccine for shingles is only recommended for those under age 50 if they have certain medical conditions that puts them at high risk of shingles. There are no recommendations yet as to whether pregnant people at risk should receive this vaccine.

COVID-19 VACCINE — Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infection caused by a virus called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It can cause a fever, cough, and trouble breathing, along with other symptoms. Some people get severely ill from COVID-19. Pregnant people are more likely to develop severe illness due to COVID-19 compared with nonpregnant people.

Experts recommend that pregnant people get vaccinated to reduce the likelihood of becoming infected as well as reduce severity of illness. The COVID-19 vaccines do not increase the risk of miscarriage (pregnancy loss) or harm a developing baby.

In addition to getting vaccinated, you can further protect yourself by avoiding people who are sick, washing your hands frequently, and wearing a face covering in crowded public places.

WHERE TO GET MORE INFORMATION — Your health care provider is the best source of information for questions and concerns related to your medical problem.

This article will be updated as needed on our web site (www.uptodate.com/patients). Related topics for patients, as well as selected articles written for health care professionals, are also available. Some of the most relevant are listed below.

Patient level information — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials.

The Basics — The Basics patient education pieces answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials.

Patient education: Vaccines and pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Avoiding infections in pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: What you should know about vaccines (The Basics)
Patient education: Vaccines for adults (The Basics)
Patient education: How to plan and prepare for a healthy pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Group B streptococcal disease and pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Rubella (The Basics)
Patient education: COVID-19 vaccines (The Basics)
Patient education: COVID-19 and pregnancy (The Basics)

Beyond the Basics — Beyond the Basics patient education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.

Patient education: Avoiding infections in pregnancy (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Vaccines for adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Vaccines for infants and children age 0 to 6 years (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Influenza prevention (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Hepatitis A (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Hepatitis B (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: General travel advice (Beyond the Basics)

Professional level information — Professional level articles are designed to keep doctors and other health professionals up-to-date on the latest medical findings. These articles are thorough, long, and complex, and they contain multiple references to the research on which they are based. Professional level articles are best for people who are comfortable with a lot of medical terminology and who want to read the same materials their doctors are reading.

Standard immunizations for nonpregnant adults
Hepatitis B virus immunization in adults
Immunizations during pregnancy
Rubella in pregnancy
Seasonal influenza vaccination in adults
Varicella-zoster virus infection in pregnancy
Poliovirus vaccination

The following organizations also provide reliable health information.

National Library of Medicine

     (www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/infectionsandpregnancy.html)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

     Toll-free: (800) 311-3435
     (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/adults/rec-vac/pregnant.html)

Infectious Diseases Society of America

     (www.idsociety.org)

This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms ©2023 UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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