Are vaccines and immunizations safe while trying to conceive?
Think vaccines are just for children? If you’re like most adults, deciding whether to get the flu shot each year is probably the most thought that you give to immunizations. But the need for vaccinations doesn’t stop when you graduate high school. Vaccines can be just as essential for adults, especially those trying to conceive.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual observance designed to educate the general public about the importance of staying up-to-date on vaccines, no matter your age. Throughout the month, we’ll be publishing a series of posts related to vaccinations and fertility.
With the increased talk about vaccines and immunizations around this time of year, we had to ask: are vaccines safe while trying to conceive?
What’s the difference between vaccinations and immunizations?
Before we get into the implications of receiving vaccines and immunizations while trying to conceive, let’s first establish the difference between the two. The term vaccination refers to receiving the vaccine dose, either orally or through an injection. Immunization refers to the effects of the vaccine on your body. Your immune system reacts to the vaccination and will be able to protect you from the virus in the future. This act of gaining immunity is referred to as immunization.
Immunizations as a part of preconception care
We all know that maintaining your personal health while trying to conceive is paramount, but does that include staying up-to-date on your vaccinations? The answer is yes, according to the CDC. Discussing necessary immunizations should be part of your pre-conception checkup with your physician. In fact, many women don’t even realize that they’re behind on their vaccines until they start trying to become pregnant. Your doctor will recommend getting vaccinations while trying to conceive to protect you and your future child from illness during your pregnancy.
Many women are unaware of the potential consequences of preventable viruses during pregnancy. For example, some preventable viruses, such as rubella, can cause congenital disabilities or miscarriages. The MMR vaccine can protect you from rubella, but the vaccine can only be administered before you get pregnant.
Fortunately, it usually only takes a simple blood test to check for immunity to a variety of viruses. If antibodies to the virus are detected in your blood, it means that you are already immune. If not, your physician may recommend immunization.
When you are immune to a virus, you and your unborn child are protected from infection. Additionally, vaccines can give your newborn enough pathogen-specific antibodies to provide them with passive immunity during their infancy. Immunizations are usually recommended before conception because some can be potentially harmful to developing fetuses.
Some vaccines are safe to receive before, and even during, pregnancy. These can include hepatitis A and B, as well as flu vaccines. Others, such as varicella and rubella, may contain live versions of the virus. This means that they introduce a weakened form of the virus into your system. This stimulates your immune system to start creating antibodies. Your doctor may recommend waiting a month after receiving these types of immunizations before trying to conceive.
Should you get the flu vaccine while trying to conceive?
When you’re trying to conceive, you become hyper-aware of everything that you put into your body, whether it’s food, hormones, or medications. With such an emphasis placed on your personal health, it’s natural to wonder whether vaccinations such as the flu shot can affect your ability to conceive a healthy child. However, it’s typically recommended to get the flu shot each year, especially if you’re trying to conceive.
Although the flu infection isn’t usually dangerous for otherwise healthy adults, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) lists pregnant women as one of the demographics at high risk for flu-related complications. The ACIP recommends the flu vaccination for all women with a chance of being pregnant during the flu season. The best time to get the flu vaccine is during October or November.
Note: If you’re undergoing fertility treatment and you suspect that you may have the flu, you should talk with your physician about whether you should continue or delay your current treatment cycle.
Specific vaccination guidelines
In the United States, most women of childbearing age are already immune to measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, and tetanus because of childhood immunizations. If you don’t have a record of receiving these immunizations or having the virus in question, your physician may recommend these and other vaccines before you start trying to conceive. Below, find a list of common vaccines and their effects on women trying to conceive.
- Measles, mumps, and rubella—This vaccine is recommended for all women who do not have a confirmed immunity to rubella. According to the CDC, if a mother is infected by rubella during the first 11 weeks of pregnancy, the risk of the child becoming affected in some way is 90%. The MMR vaccine contains a live attenuated (weakened) form of the virus. Being exposed to this weakened version of the virus enables your body to create a strong, long-lasting immune response. However, because the vaccine contains a live version of the virus, it is recommended to wait to conceive until one month after receiving the vaccination. Despite the theoretical risks during pregnancy, there have been no confirmed cases of the MMR vaccine significantly affecting the fetus or causing congenital abnormalities.
- Varicella—The vaccine for varicella, also known as chickenpox, is recommended for women who do not have evidence of immunity to the virus. Like the MMR vaccine, the varicella vaccine contains a live attenuated virus. Because of this, pregnancy should be avoided for at least one month after immunization. This vaccine is recommended for the following high-risk groups: people who live or work with young children, nonpregnant women of childbearing age, college students, military personnel, and international travelers.
- Tetanus-diphtheria—Many adults aren’t aware that a tetanus-diphtheria booster vaccine is recommended every ten years. Another form of this vaccine, Tdap, also protects against pertussis (whooping cough). The Tdap vaccine is recommended for all women who may become pregnant. There is no required waiting period between receiving the Tdap vaccine and conceiving.
Though not as common as the above immunizations, the vaccines discussed below are recommended for any high-risk women who are trying to conceive.
- Hepatitis A and B—Women at high risk for hepatitis A include those with chronic liver disease and those traveling to countries with a high concentration of hepatitis A infection. Women at high risk for hepatitis B include healthcare workers exposed to blood, as well as women traveling to countries with a high prevalence of hepatitis B infection. The vaccines for both hepatitis A and B do not contain live forms of the virus and pose no known risks to women trying to conceive.
- Pneumococcus—If you have chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, diabetes, or suffer from sickle cell anemia you may be at a higher risk for pneumococcal infection. If you are in a high-risk category and are trying to conceive, your physician may recommend the pneumococcal vaccine.
Should you get vaccinated before traveling?
If you have plans to travel internationally, certain vaccines may be recommended before your trip. The CDC provides useful healthcare recommendations to consider depending on your travel destination. Some locations are known to have a high prevalence of certain viruses, such as yellow fever and Zika virus, that may be harmful to women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. Not all viruses have vaccinations that are safe for women trying to become pregnant. If your travel destination has a high prevalence of certain viruses, you may have to decide between delaying your travel plans or your plans to conceive.
Before getting vaccinated, discuss the potential impacts with your physician, especially if you’re currently undergoing fertility treatments. However, in most cases, vaccinations are recommended for women who are trying to conceive because they give protection to both the mother and the developing fetus. Some immunizations cannot be safely administered during pregnancy so, for many women, the best time to get vaccinated is while they’re trying to conceive.