Are Vaccines Safe During Pregnancy?

Paul A. Offit, MD, explains why the rubella and varicella vaccines should not be given during pregnancy, and why the pertussis and influenza vaccines ARE important to give to pregnant mothers.


Are Vaccines Safe During Pregnancy?

Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. And what I thought we could talk about a little bit this morning is, can vaccines be given safely when a woman is pregnant?

So, there's a few ways to look at this. I think first of all, there are a couple of vaccines that definitely should not be given during pregnancy. One is the rubella vaccine, or German measles vaccine. The other one is the varicella, or chickenpox, vaccine.  Now, both of those viruses, the natural forms of the viruses, the so-called wild-type forms of the viruses, can definitely cause birth defects when a mother acquires those infections during the first or second trimester of pregnancy. So there's a theoretical concern that the vaccines, which are much more weakened forms of the virus, could also do the same thing. Now, they haven't. That hasn't been shown to be true. But in any case, because of the theoretical possibility, those vaccines should not be given during pregnancy.

Now, there are two vaccines that definitely should be given during pregnancy. One is the pertussis, or whopping cough vaccine, and the other is the influenza vaccine. The influenza vaccine is given, in large part, to protect the mother. Because women who are pregnant, when they get an influenza infection, are much more likely to suffer severe and occasionally fatal pneumonia than a woman of the same age who is not pregnant that's infected with influenza. The main reason you give the whopping cough vaccine is in part to protect the mother, but the larger part, frankly, is to protect the baby. Because if you look in the United States, every year there's about 20 to 25 babies who die from pertussis, or whopping cough, and usually they're less than 2 months of age. That's too young to get a vaccine. So by giving the mother the vaccine, she then gets the antibody response, which she passively transfers through the placenta to her baby, which then protects that baby in the first few months of life.

Now, how about a woman that's pregnant and living in the home, can her children get vaccines safely? And the answer to that question is, yes. There is no vaccine that cannot be given in the home of a pregnant woman. Or said another way, all vaccines can be given in the home of pregnant women.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Apr 23, 2015