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Flu, COVID vaccines important during pregnancy, expectant mothers learn

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Read more here.

A constant stream of pregnant and lactating women made their way to UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital on Saturday for a vaccine clinic to protect them against the flu and COVID-19.

The clinic, which was set up as appointment only, also offered the flu vaccine and COVID-19 boosters to UPMC staffers.

Protection from the seasonal flu and COVID is especially important to pregnant women and their families, said Dr. Christina Megli, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.

She was on hand during the clinic to answer questions for the 30 women who had made appointments for vaccinations.

Vaccination “is the primary preventive way to avoid women and babies from getting sick from basic viruses,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant or recently pregnant women are more likely to get “very sick” from COVID-19 compared to people who are not pregnant. Additionally, women who contract COVID-19 during pregnancy run the risk of complications that can affect the pregnancy and developing baby, the CDC says.

“Sadly, we have lost pregnant patients to COVID,” said Dr. Megli.

Similarly concerning lately has been the surge of respiratory syncytial virus in children, a sickness that has left pediatric hospitals and emergency rooms overrun with patients.

At the clinic Saturday, partners, children and family members all signed up for vaccines to protect the babies and future moms in their lives.

“A baby can get COVID or the flu from anyone. A grandparent or family member visiting, that’s how a lot of babies contract COVID or the flu,” said Dr. Megli.

Some people may be unaware that when a mother receives the COVID vaccine, the antibodies in the shot cross the placenta to provide an unborn child some protection, she said.

“That protection is even more powerful than if you were to get vaccinated while breast feeding, so it is really important to get that vaccination while you are pregnant,” Dr. Megli said.

Dr. Kate Belser of Pittsburgh, who is 20 weeks pregnant herself, came directly from work at Kids Plus Pediatrics in Pleasant Hills to get her COVID-19 booster.

“It’s so important,” she said, still in her work scrubs.

Victoria Nellis was in line to get her COVID-19 booster as well. She plans to get a flu shot Tuesday but timed her COVID booster to be taken after her morning sickness had passed Saturday.

“I think it’s a good time to get it, since I am just out of my first trimester,” she said.

Patients who were concerned about side effects from vaccinations didn’t have to worry, since they are no more at risk than a person who is not pregnant, Dr. Megli said.

“There is still a lot of vaccine hesitancy out there, which is the primary reason many women choose to not be vaccinated. It’s interesting because we actually have more data on the safety of flu vaccines and these COVID vaccines than a lot of medications we use routinely in pregnancy,” she said. “It’s really, really safe and very effective.”

She continued, “You may get soreness in your arm or feel a little run down after the shot, but that would be the same as anyone getting the shot.”

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You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

As parents, determining how best to protect our children can be overwhelming and confusing. We’re here to help.

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