Not Enough Pregnant People Are Getting Their Flu and Whooping Cough Vaccines

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Just 35 percent of pregnant people are getting the vaccines against both flu and whooping cough, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The New York Times covered the discouraging numbers. Why aren’t people getting the shots? Well, part of the problem is that a fair number of doctors still aren’t recommending them. Stat News pointed out: “Only about 75% of the pregnant women reported having received a recommendation from their doctor to get the two vaccines.” But there were also misconceptions at work:

The most common reason the women gave for not getting the flu vaccine was a belief it was not effective. The reason they gave most often for not getting the Tdap vaccine was not knowing it is necessary during each pregnancy. For both vaccines, the second most common reason women refused it was concern about whether it was safe for their babies, the report said.

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It’s bad news because whooping cough is very dangerous for babies and a booster delivered during pregnancy protects children until they can be vaccinated at two months, and pregnancy is a particularly vulnerable time for complications from the flu. And yet rates for the vaccines individually are hovering around 50 percent.

It’s worth noting that pregnant people are bombarded with the idea that putting anything into their bodies—alcohol, medicine, soft cheese, deli meats—is basically Russian roulette, and it’s not surprising that carries over into vaccines, even important ones. Another underlying factor here is very likely, once again, the shameful gaps in American healthcare:

The report found that African-American women were less likely than women of other races to be vaccinated and were less likely to report that their providers offered them or referred them for vaccination. Women who were uninsured, poor or living in the South were also less likely to be advised they should get the flu vaccine. Women age 35 or older and working women were less likely to have received a recommendation for a whooping cough vaccine, although the report did not explain why.

So, once again, it’s not simply a matter of what individuals do or don’t—it’s a matter of broader public health decisions and how we invest or don’t.

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