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SRINAGAR: Urging pregnant women to get vaccinated against flu, Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) on Sunday said flu vaccine protects expectant mothers and their babies from flu. “Pregnant women are more vulnerable when it comes to flu due to the way their immune system, heart and lungs change during pregnancy,” said DAK president and flu expert Dr Nisar ul Hassan in a communiqué.

“Pregnant women who get the flu are at higher risk of hospitalization, and even death,” he said.  Dr Nisar said the risk of premature labor and delivery increases when expectant mothers catch the flu and there is a greater chance of birth defects and even death of a baby in the womb.  “Preventing influenza during pregnancy is an essential element of prenatal care and the most effective strategy for preventing influenza is vaccination,” he said.

Quoting a 2018 study, Dr Nisar said pregnant women who received flu vaccination were 40% less likely to be hospitalized during pregnancy than pregnant women who weren’t vaccinated. “Flu vaccine in pregnancy saves infants from dying in the womb,” he said. “Flu vaccination was associated with 51 percent reduction in stillbirths,” Dr Nisar quoted another study.

He added mother’s flu shot protects her baby for up to 6 months after he or she is born, which is important because babies younger than 6 months cannot be vaccinated. Dr Nisar said flu vaccine is perfectly safe for pregnant women and can be given during any stage of pregnancy.  It is the injectable flu vaccine that should be given to pregnant women and not nasal flu vaccine as it is made from live virus that makes it less appropriate during pregnancy.

“Despite life-saving benefits of flu vaccine in pregnancy, majority of the pregnant women in Kashmir are unvaccinated.  Last year two expecting mothers lost their lives to flu at SKIMS and both of them had not received the flu vaccine,” he informed. “The power of vaccination in pregnancy is a message that should be broadcast far and wide. It is imperative that obstetricians should advocate for influenza immunization and provide flu vaccine to their pregnant patients,” said Dr Nisar.