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Is Vaccination Safe During Pregnancy?

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 11/29/2008

Vaccination is a safe and fast procedure which provides protection against many infectious diseases. However, the safety of vaccination is often questioned by many people, including pregnant women, who fear it may harm their unborn child.

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    For the most part, vaccination is an entirely safe procedure. There are rare cases where receiving a vaccine may cause an unwanted reaction that may lead to illness or even death. Thankfully, such occurrences are extremely rare. In the case of polio vaccination, for example, adverse reactions occur in just 1 case out of every 750,000.

    While vaccination is, in general, safe for most people, a pregnant woman should be cautious about receiving vaccinations. And for this reason, if you’re planning to become pregnant, it is very wise to ensure you are up-to-date with vaccinations well before you conceive, to prevent any possible problems.

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    Vaccines which are Safe during Pregnancy

    In general, killed or subunit vaccines are safe for pregnant women. A pregnant woman who is considered to be at risk of infection can safely receive vaccinations for tetanus, diphtheria, influenza, and hepatitis B, without harm to either her or her unborn baby (note, however, that the flu vaccine is generally administered only after the 14-week stage).

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    Vaccines which may be recommended for Women at Risk

    The following vaccines are not known to be 100% safe during pregnancy, but may be recommended for a pregnant woman if she is considered to be at risk of infection.

    Hepatitis A vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine have not been determined to be safe for pregnant women (this does not mean they are known to be unsafe, it just means there is no conclusive information either way).

    Polio vaccination is not recommended during pregnancy. Normally this is a non-issue for women living in the United States as the risk of infection is extremely low.

    Generally these vaccines are not recommended during pregnancy unless there is a high risk of infection, and it’s important to discuss risks and benefits with your doctor before deciding whether to have the vaccination.

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    Vaccines which may be Harmful during Pregnancy

    As far as the vaccines themselves go, there are some which should be avoided when pregnant. These include most live vaccines, in particular the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella), and the varicella vaccine (chicken pox). These two can potentially result in miscarriage, birth defects, or premature birth if the virus is transmitted to the fetus during pregnancy. These vaccines must be given at least one to three months prior to conception if they are needed.

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    Overall Safety

    With rare exceptions, vaccination is generally a safe procedure. However, if you are in the position of having to decide whether to receive a vaccination while pregnant, make sure you’re in full possession of the facts: always talk to your doctor to find out about the benefits, and the potential risks, of vaccination or any other medical procedure.