image of barnstable county courthouse

The Big Question: Do Pregnant Women Need the Flu Shot?

At 9:45 a.m. in early November, I walk into the exam room to see my patient, Maria Smith (not her real name). She’s 32 years old, with a history of high blood pressure and thyroid problems, and she’s also 22 weeks pregnant. Ten minutes into her appointment, we’ve reviewed her medications and her weight; we’ve measured her belly and listened to the healthy bop-bop-bop of the fetal heartbeat. Now it’s time for me to ask The Question: “Can we give you a flu shot today?”

This is The Question for this time of year, because I have to ask it of every patient. Early fall is the beginning of flu season, and although the flu is often mild, we all know that sometimes it can be risky. What many pregnant women might not know is that for them, getting the flu is more dangerous than it is for the non-pregnant population. Many of the changes in the body that make carrying a pregnancy possible – changes in the heart, lungs, blood and immune system – also make infection with the influenza virus more likely to result in complications. Pregnant women who get the flu are much more likely to get very sick, to need hospitalization and even to die.