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New research has found that despite some parents’ concerns, there appears to be no link between flu vaccination during pregnancy and later health problems in children.
Carried out by Canadian and US researchers, the new study looked at whether there was a link between receiving the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccination during pregnancy, and the health of 104,249 children, 31,295 of whom were born to vaccinated mothers.
The findings, published by The BMJ Thursday, showed that the children born to vaccinated mothers did not appear to have a higher risk of cancer, infections, chronic diseases, hospital admissions or death during the first five years of life than children whose mothers were unvaccinated.
The team did find that the rate of gastrointestinal infections was slightly lower in children born to vaccinated mothers, while the risk of childhood asthma was slightly higher. However, they noted that the associations were very small and could be due to other factors not accounted for in the analysis.
Pregnant women and newborn children are two of the groups at a higher risk of serious illness during flu pandemics and seasonal epidemics, and many countries advise pregnant women to have the vaccine as a means of protecting both themselves and their young children.
However, vaccination levels are still low, especially across Europe and North America, with many women citing safety concerns as a reason for not being immunized.
Previous research has provided substantial evidence that the flu vaccination poses no risk to newborn health, although fewer studies have looked at the longer-term health effects. While the team note that the current study is an observational one, and so cannot show cause and effect, they say that the results are reassuring, adding in a linked editorial that all available evidence shows that the flu vaccine is safe for both mothers and children.
They added that carrying out further studies, especially with different influenza vaccine formulations such as seasonal vaccines, “are important for developing the evidence base on longer term pediatric outcomes following influenza vaccination during pregnancy,” but concluded that, “Especially in this era of ‘anti-vaxx’ anxiety and misinformation, it is our duty to be clear: vaccination of pregnant women saves lives.”