Certain vaccinations are recommended in pregnancy, to boost the immunity of both yourself and your baby against certain infections. During pregnancy, a woman’s immune system is usually weakened as it is diverted to protecting the baby. Some are boosters of vaccinations you may have had in childhood. There are certain vaccinations that are safe and some which pose a risk – your practice nurse, midwife or doctor can talk you through this. Any potential risk posed by a vaccine is considerably less than getting the infection itself.
Having vaccinations in pregnancy allows your body to produce antibodies to help fight against a particular viral or bacterial infection. These antibodies will defend you the next time you meet it, and they pass through the placenta to your baby for protection until after they are born. The pertussis vaccine is recommended after your 16th week. This vaccine is protecting against a bacterial infection called whooping cough (pertussis), which can be very serious in young babies. The vaccine protects your baby up until about the 8th week of life. It will have formed part of your childhood vaccinations, too. The flu vaccine is recommended each year for certain vulnerable groups, and this includes pregnant women. Their slightly weakened immune system means they are more likely to suffer complications from the influenza virus than usual. Flu can lead to pneumonia and hospitalisation and the vaccine reduces your chance of this. This is best taken as early as possible during flu season, in autumn and winter. Similarly, the COVID-19 vaccine is offered as pregnant women are at higher risk of complications if they catch COVID-19 than non-pregnant people of the same age. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in pregnancy and offers good protection for both mother and child. This can be given at any time during your pregnancy.
Some vaccines contain live components of the virus or bacteria, others don’t. Live vaccines contain a ‘live’ version of the virus and are usually not advised in pregnancy as they could provoke the infection in your unborn child. Examples of live vaccines include: the BCG vaccine (against tuberculosis or TB), the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps and rubella), polio, typhoid and yellow fever. It’s best to wait until after baby is born to have these vaccines but if the risk outweighs the benefit (for example you are at a high risk of a particular infection), your doctors may decide that it is in yours and your baby’s best interest to have the vaccine.
It’s usually best to avoid countries where you need a vaccine to travel to during pregnancy. If you can't delay travel, then you should discuss it with your doctor, practice nurse or midwife, as many of the travel vaccines are live vaccines and carry some risks that you should be aware of. If areas you are travelling to are high risk, it is better to have a vaccine than risk travelling without any protection. Malarial countries should be avoided in pregnancy, but there are some antimalarial tablets you can take as a preventative measure if you must travel. These do come with risks and so is important to discuss them with a doctor.
The pertussis vaccine and the flu vaccine will be required with each pregnancy, as the length of protection does not last that long and the flu virus changes every year, so previous vaccines are not protective against future infections. The COVID-19 vaccine should offer ongoing protection, provided you get your boosters, according to current guidelines.