What are vaccines? — Vaccines are treatments that can prevent certain serious or deadly infections. They work by preparing the body to fight the germs that cause the infections. Vaccines usually come in shots, but some come in nose sprays or medicines that people swallow. Vaccines are also called “vaccinations” or “immunizations.”
Why should I get vaccinated? — Getting vaccinated can help keep you from getting certain serious infections. It’s important to be vaccinated even if you don’t become pregnant. But if you are pregnant and get certain infections, you can have problems during your pregnancy. Being vaccinated can also help keep your baby from getting sick.
What should I know about vaccines if I am planning to get pregnant? — If you are planning to get pregnant, you should make sure that your vaccines are up to date. This means that you have gotten all of the vaccines that your doctor or nurse recommends. If you are not sure if you got all of your vaccines, your doctor or nurse might do a blood test to check.
It’s especially important that women be up to date with their vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox before they get pregnant. That’s because vaccines to prevent these infections cannot be given to pregnant women. If women who have not been vaccinated do get these infections during pregnancy, they can have problems. Problems can include:
●Having a baby with a birth defect
●Giving birth too early
●Having a miscarriage – A miscarriage is when a pregnancy ends on its own.
●Spreading the infection to the baby
Women who need the measles, mumps, rubella, or chickenpox vaccines should get them at least 1 month before getting pregnant.
It’s also important that women be up to date with a vaccine called the HPV vaccine before they get pregnant. The HPV vaccine is another vaccine that cannot be given to pregnant women.
Do I need the chickenpox vaccine if I had chickenpox infection? — No. If you had chickenpox infection in the past, you do not need to get the vaccine. People who have had chickenpox can’t get the illness again.
Which vaccines are safe to get during pregnancy? — Some vaccines are safe to get during pregnancy. These include vaccines to prevent:
●Influenza (flu) – All adults should get the flu vaccine each year. But it’s especially important for pregnant women to get the flu vaccine. That’s because pregnant women tend get more severely ill with the flu than people who are not pregnant. The flu vaccine can keep a woman from getting sick. It can also keep a baby from getting the flu during the first few months of life.
●Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis – Tetanus causes the muscles to work abnormally. Diphtheria can cause a thick covering in the back of the throat that can lead to breathing problems. Pertussis, also known as “whooping cough,” causes a severe cough. All pregnant women should get the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine at 27 to 36 weeks of pregnancy, even if they got it before.
●Some women might get other vaccines while they are pregnant. For example, women might need certain vaccines if they have other medical conditions or plan to travel to another country.
How many vaccine doses do I need? — Each vaccine is different. Some vaccines work after just 1 dose. Others need 2 or more doses to prevent an infection. Most vaccines take a few weeks to work.
What side effects can vaccines cause? — Often, vaccines cause no side effects. When they do cause side effects, they can cause:
●Redness, mild swelling, or soreness where the shot was given
●A mild fever
●A mild rash
●Headache or body aches
Vaccines also sometimes cause more serious side effects, such as severe allergic reactions. But serious side effects are rare.
Ask your doctor or nurse what side effects to expect each time you get a vaccine. If you have a reaction or a problem after a vaccine, let him or her know.
What if I have an egg allergy? — If you have an egg allergy, let your doctor or nurse know. Some vaccines have egg in them because of how they are made. Your doctor or nurse will tell you which vaccines are safe to get.
What if I am pregnant and never got the measles, mumps, rubella, or chickenpox vaccines? — If you are pregnant and never got these vaccines and never had these infections, you should avoid people with these infections.
If you find out that someone around you has chickenpox, call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible. He or she can give you a medicine to reduce your chances of getting it.
Content adapted from UpToDate Patient Information.