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Vaccines: Good for babies and their moms

Vaccine coverage should begin during pregnancy, says Emory's Saad Omer

By Kay Torrance | Public Health Magazine | Jan. 7, 2015

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"Vaccine-preventable diseases often start among persons who forego vaccinations and spread rapidly," says Saad Omer, whose research led the WHO to recommend influenza vaccinations globally, especially among pregnant women.

Photo by Kay Hinton

New parents-to-be see and hear a host of messages geared toward them. Breastfeeding is best. Rear-facing, not front-facing, car seats are safer for newborns. Babies should sleep on their backs. What parents aren't hearing enough, says RSPH researcher Saad Omer, is that pregnant women and their babies need vaccines so that both stay healthy.

"When you start talking about childhood vaccines with parents after their babies are born, it is already too late," he says. "Young parents are more receptive when they are pregnant. There are already lots of messages that are targeted to them during pregnancy, such as breastfeeding and safety. We need to add mother and child vaccinations to that."

He wants pregnant women to know that vaccinations given during pregnancy also help protect their babies. He was the first researcher to document that babies born during flu season (October 1 to May 31) and whose mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy were less likely to be premature or small for their gestational age than babies born to unvaccinated mothers. Another of his studies demonstrated that vaccinating pregnant women against influenza also protected their infants.

"Vaccinating pregnant women is especially important in developing countries," he says. "Here in the United States, premature babies go to the NICU. In many parts of developing countries, there is no NICU. Worldwide, 1 million deaths are associated with preterm births."

Omer's findings helped lead the World Health Organization to recommend the use of the influenza vaccination globally, especially among pregnant women. He currently is heading up a study in Pakistan, the first one in the world to look at pertussis vaccination of pregnant women and the impact on their infants.

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