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Calgary doctor urges pregnant women to get flu vaccine to protect their unborn baby

If a pregnant woman gets influenza, her chances of being admitted to the hospital are five times higher

The best way to protect that little one from influenza is to get vaccinated while pregnant, according to a Calgary doctor who offers the flu shot to patients at the Foothills Pregnancy Clinic.

Metro File / AP

The best way to protect that little one from influenza is to get vaccinated while pregnant, according to a Calgary doctor who offers the flu shot to patients at the Foothills Pregnancy Clinic.

The best way to protect your baby from influenza is by getting the flu shot while pregnant, according to a Calgary obstetric internal medicine specialist who’s on a mission to make the vaccine available at pregnancy clinics across Alberta.

Dr. Eliana Castillo, also an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, said the most efficient way moms-to-be can protect their babies against influenza in the first six months of life is by getting immunized.

“There is a fear that the vaccine may be harmful to the unborn baby, and I think we really have an opportunity as obstetric internal medicine providers to open a dialogue with our patients and address that concern,” Castillo told Metro.

“Babies are very susceptible to influenza and can get very sick from (it) in the first six months of life – and all the vaccines we have are not made for babies between birth and the age of six months – so the only way to protect the little one during that post-pregnancy period is by protecting mom.”

Last year, only seven per cent of pregnant women in the North Zone and just 22 per cent in the South Zone (which includes Calgary) got their flu shot – something that concerns Castillo.

“(The rates) are very low,” she said. “The flu shot should be received by every pregnant women, every pregnancy.”

When a soon-to-be mom gets influenza, her chances of being admitted to the hospital are five times higher, even if she’s healthy, Castillo said.

“And her chances of delivering her baby prematurely go up, as well as her chances of having a baby that’s born smaller than it was supposed to be,” she said.

“But if they get the flu shot, the antibodies that protect them can also be passed on through the placenta to the baby and protect the baby at a time when they can’t get their own vaccine.”

She currently offers the vaccine to her patients at the Foothills Pregnancy Clinic and hopes it will soon become standard practice across the province.

“This project is really a proof of concept, were trying to see if we can work out the logistics to give the shots during pre-natal care – make it more convenient, they’re already (at the clinic),” Castillo explained.

According to current data from Alberta Health Services, 1,167,858 doses of the influenza vaccine have already been administered within the 2017-2018 flu season – 496,411 were in the Calgary Zone.

Thirty-one people in Alberta with lab confirmed influenza have died this season, 16 of which were in Calgary – just three deaths shy of the 2016-2017 season’s total.

Twenty-seven per cent of the general population in Alberta got vaccinated last year, but Castillo pointed out that’s only an average.

“For health care workers, it was 44 per cent and for seniors, it was 62 per cent in Alberta,” she said.

“Ideally, 100 per cent of pregnant women should be getting the vaccine – it’s not a perfect tool – but it’s a tool that can actually bring the risks down, so let’s use it.”

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