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Flu vaccine and pregnancy frequently asked questions

What are the risks of the flu infection if I’m pregnant?

Pregnancy increases the risk of developing serious complications from the flu. Complications of the flu infection in pregnant women are the same for the rest of the population but can also include miscarriage or premature labour. 

Pregnant women have an increased risk of complications because their immune system is naturally suppressed during pregnancy and their 'expanded size' can make breathing more difficult. This is particularly relevant to women in their second and third trimester.

Generally pregnant women have greater risk of requiring medical visits and hospital stays due to flu related illness compared to non-pregnant women.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) have advised that infection in the third trimester of pregnancy appears to be the most dangerous for pregnant women.

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Is the vaccine safe if I'm pregnant?

Yes. The vaccine is safe to give in all stages of pregnancy. The possible side effects of the flu vaccine are the same as for the rest of the population.

The seasonal flu vaccine is recommended in all stages of pregnancy and has been given safely to millions of women across the world. Studies looking at the effects of pregnant women receiving the seasonal flu vaccination indicate no negative effects on pregnant women or their babies. In fact the active placental transfer of maternal antibodies makes the flu vaccine during pregnancy highly effective in protecting infants from the flu during the first six months of life.

The flu vaccine cannot give you or your unborn baby the flu because it contains no active virus. Some people who receive the flu vaccine but still develop the flu have generally been infected before the vaccine has had time to take effect.

If you have any allergies or are concerned about the potential side effects of the flu vaccine please discuss this with your doctor or immunisation provider before you have the vaccination. Immunisation providers are trained to ask about potential allergic reactions before giving the vaccine and to treat such reactions if they occur following the vaccination.

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Am I eligible for a free vaccination?

Yes. All pregnant women (in any trimester) are eligible to receive the free seasonal flu vaccine. Please note, your doctor may charge a consultation fee.

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Has the vaccine been properly tested for safety?

Yes. Before a vaccine, or any medication can be used in Australia it must be licensed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA use clinical trials to extensively test each vaccine for safety and effectiveness.

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Does the flu vaccine contain the preservative thiomersal?

No. The seasonal flu vaccine provided in South Australia does not contain thiomersal.

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What are the possible side effects of the flu vaccine?

Like any medication, some expectant mothers may experience an unexpected reaction to the flu vaccine. Expectant mothers may experience the following side effects:

  • pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
  • low grade temperature
  • muscle aches
  • drowsiness or tiredness
  • a temporary small lump at the injection site.

Most side effects are minor, last a short time, resolve without any treatment and do not lead to any long-term problems. Generally, mild reactions begin within six to 12 hours.  As with any medication, very rarely will you have a severe allergic reaction which will usually occur within 15 minutes of receiving a vaccine. Due to this, it is important for you to wait for 15 minutes after receiving your vaccine before leaving your vaccine provider.

Your vaccine provider will advise you of the potential side effects of having the flu vaccine and what you should do if you have a reaction.

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Why did my doctor recommend an antivirial medication when I had the flu?

While the flu viruses do not cross the placenta and infect the baby while in the uterus, the high fever and any chest complications caused by flu can be potentially harmful to the baby. Because of these risks, a doctor may recommend antiviral medication for pregnant women with the flu.

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Can I continue to breastfeed while taking the antiviral medication?

There is no evidence that the antiviral medications used in Australia to treat flu are associated with adverse effects in pregnancy and you may continue to breastfeed while taking antiviral medication.

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