Pregnant women get green light to use flu vaccine

2014-09-04 08:18

A South African study has found that flu vaccines are safe to use on pregnant women and actually protect them and their newborn babies from respiratory illness.

The study is the first in the world to prove the efficacy and safety of using flu vaccines on pregnant women. It was conducted by researchers from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the University of the Witwatersrand.

Findings of this landmark study were published in the prestigious medical journal, The New England Journal for Medicine, last night. It showed that the vaccination of pregnant women was associated with 50% protection against influenza illness in HIV-negative women and 70% protection in HIV-positive women.

It also revealed that the infants born to mothers who had received the influenza vaccine were also less likely to develop influenza until six months of age.

“The mechanisms by which the infants were protected were either due to transplacental acquisition of maternal antibodies or because of reduced transmission of influenza virus from the mother to the baby. Between 30% and 50% of mothers of infants with influenza illness, were themselves affected by influenza illness at the time when their child was ill,” explained the institute’s spokesperson, Nombuso Shabalala.

The protection of the infants less than six months old against influenza is of huge concern for South Africa because there is no licensed flu vaccine for this age group.

A previous local study that looked at the incidence of flu in infants found that the risk of hospitalisation in infants under six months due to influenza was extremely high compared with adults.

The study, conducted in Soweto, showed that infants were also the greatest at-risk age group for influenza-associated death in South Africa.

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