The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several studies that found the flu vaccine was safe for pregnant women and their babies. Among those is a 2013 study showing no increased risk of miscarriage for pregnant women who got the flu shot. Yet neither that study nor the others made any big headlines.
What did make headlines was a study published in September that found a slight increase in miscarriages among women who got the flu shot two years in a row, which has left some expectant mothers wondering if they should get their shots.
It makes sense that the newest study received a lot of attention. We don’t tend to notice when studies say everything is working fine. We do notice when they indicate a possible problem, and we should.
Of course, doctors, patients and scientists do need to review all information carefully. We all want to protect pregnancies from any harm to the mother or fetus. We also want to protect pregnant women and their babies from influenza, which can be a particularly severe and even deadly illness among young infants. Those younger than 6 months cannot be vaccinated, but the mother’s vaccine during pregnancy provides several months of protection to her baby.
Even the scientists who conducted the study were surprised and puzzled, saying that their findings should encourage more research, but not a change in health policy for a vaccine that has repeatedly been shown to help women and babies.
So who’s right? What should the public make of all this? Allison Winnike, president and CEO here at The Immunization Partnership, unpacked the issue of seemingly conflicting studies in an op-ed published by the Austin American Statesman, writing:
Many pregnant women probably feel nervous after recent headlines about influenza shots. Researchers published a paper showing a small association between flu shots and miscarriages.
Notice that the researchers never said flu shots increased the risk of miscarriage, and certainly not that the vaccinations caused such sad events. In fact, doctors’ groups were quick to say pregnant women should continue getting their flu shots, which provide vital protection for the fetus and the mother.
How can both be true? Understanding the answer calls for a deeper explanation of how science works.
For one thing, it is extremely rare for any single study to prove that something is true. Medical advice is based on a body of evidence, with many studies involving thousands of patients whose findings all point in the same direction. That is what today’s vaccine recommendations are based on — a tremendous amount of research, with more going on all the time, finding time after time that vaccines are both safe and effective.
Read the full op-ed here.
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