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Advocating for Vaccinations During Pregnancy

“Vaccinations during pregnancy are underutilized,” opened Jill Davies, M.D. ’93, RESD ’97, associate professor at the University of Colorado, Denver School of Medicine, during the Annual Weingold Lecture. Her talk, titled “Vaccinations During Pregnancy – Should You Do It?” focused on vaccinations during pregnancy, particularly influenza and combined Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (Tdap) vaccines.

Addressing current medical students, alumni, faculty, residents, and staff on hand for the opening day event at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences annual Alumni Weekend, Sept. 27-29, Davies reviewed the rationale for the most current iterations of recommendations for vaccination in the pregnant woman. In particular, she focused on seasonal influenza, Tdap guidelines, and Hepatitis B vaccinations. 

 “Immunization has been attributed to one of greatest public health achievements of the 20th century,” said Davies. As health professionals, “what is our role in immunization?” she asked. “We are in a unique position to provide vaccines to women of all ages,” said Davies. “We often serve as a first point of contact for young women either seeking medical consultation or in their child bearing years.”

“The risks of vaccinations during pregnancy are primarily theoretical,” said Davies. Adding “there is no documented evidence of risk of vaccinating a pregnant woman with an inactivated vaccine, bacterial vaccine, or toxoid.”  In situations where there are risks of exposure to a disease or where vaccination is unlikely to cause harm, the benefits of that vaccination outweigh the risks, says Davies.

Any discussion of vaccination is sure to raise the specter of Autism. Davies dove head first into the topic, addressing theories surrounding Thimerosal and its connection to the neurodevelopmental disorder. “The links between Autism and Thimerosal use have been debunked completely,” Davies said. She explained that vaccines using Thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative found in some vaccines and other products since the 1930s, show very low levels of mercury transmission. Davies added that mercury levels found in breast milk and baby formula are frequently higher than what any individual would receive from a vaccine. “The flu vaccine is the only current vaccination that still uses thimerosal,” she said. “It contains one-third of the daily limit of mercury.”

In terms of overall well-being, Davies stressed the need to make sure women understand that vaccinations are not only enhancing their own health, but, while pregnant, they help to facilitate the transfer of antibodies to the fetus for protection. Davies told the audience to remember that pregnancy maybe the only time that some women are seeking care.

Davies concluded her discussion by encouraging her fellow health professionals to be advocates for vaccinations. “We need to identify patients who need vaccinations and, most importantly, educate them on the benefits of getting vaccinated,” she said.