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Julie Anderson, R.N., right, gives a flu shot to patient Kelly Thomsen, M.D., who is taking part in a study of the flu vaccine’s effect on pregnant women and their children. (photo by Jenny Mandeville)

Flu vaccine’s benefits during pregnancy studied

BY: CAROLE BARTOO

10/21/2010 - As a physician, Kelly Thomsen knows winter is not the best season to deliver a baby, yet she is expecting her first child, a boy, around the beginning of December.

“Right in the middle of flu season!” Thomsen said, laughing.

For that reason, Thomsen says she was thrilled when she recently saw an announcement in MyVUMC about a vaccine trial seeking pregnant women.

The goal of the study is to examine the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in protecting pregnant women and the potential protection of their newborn babies.

Thomsen signed up and became the fourth participant at Vanderbilt.

“Pregnant women are a population that is more susceptible to complications of the flu, so it is important for them to be vaccinated anyway,” said Celeste Hemingway, M.D., assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, one of the investigators of the study.

“But there is still misinformation out there. Some women won't get the flu shot because they believe they can get the flu from the shot.”

Thomsen agrees. She has heard the myth about getting sick from the flu shot too many times in her own medical practice.

“I would have gotten the flu shot anyway, but this way I can contribute to knowledge that will help to educate more people about the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine,” Thomsen said.

While the flu shot has been found to be safe and is universally recommended for all pregnant women, the body may not receive the same amount of vaccine protection during pregnancy as it might at other times.

And Hemingway said there are a number of potential ways the vaccine may protect babies, but little is known about how much protection might pass from mother to child. The current study will examine both questions.

“The simple fact that vaccinated women are protected from flu could protect babies by avoiding the passage of the virus from mother to newborn. But scientists have also wondered whether the maternal immune system might pass protection to babies through intra-uterine circulation before birth,” Hemingway said.

To help find the answers, the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program (VVRP) is one of several sites across the nation participating in a National Institutes of Health study to evaluate the immune responses of both mother and newborn.

“Influenza is a serious respiratory virus. Hospitalization and death rates from influenza are greater in high-risk populations, including pregnant women and young infants. This study will help inform our recommendations,” said Kathryn Edwards, M.D., Sarah H. Sell Professor of Pediatrics, director of the VVRP and principal investigator of the study.

Experts at the VVRP are enrolling 36 pregnant women. A total of 180 pregnant women will be enrolled at multiple sites across the country for a period of five to eight months.

Women age 18 to 39, who are in their second or third trimester of pregnancy (14 to 33 weeks gestation) are eligible to take part in the study.

Each woman will receive the seasonal flu vaccine and have their blood drawn four times over a six-month period.

The study is taking place in the Center for Women's Health at Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks.

For more information on this study, please call the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program at 322-2730, or e-mail vaccineresearch@vanderbilt.edu.

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