A BICTON professor who has found pregnant women vaccinated against the flu carry a significantly lower risk of stillbirth has been awarded a prestigious research prize.
Traditionally, some pregnant women have shied away from the flu vaccine, worried about side effects on their unborn babies.
However, a study of 60,000 pregnancies by Curtin University researcher Annette Regan found that pregnant women vaccinated against seasonal influenza reduced their risk of stillbirth by 51 per cent.
Dr Regan’s paper, published in the journal Clinical Infection Diseases last year, earned her the Aileen Plant Memorial Prize at the Communicable Diseases Control Conference last week.
The prize is awarded annually for a first author paper by an Australian researcher in the area of infectious diseases epidemiology.
“We know that being concerned about the safety of vaccination during pregnancy can be a real impediment to receiving a vaccine,” Dr Regan said.
“Pregnant women can worry the vaccine may cause harm to themselves or their baby.
“Of the 60,000 pregnant women we examined in the study, only 10 per cent had received the influenza vaccine.
“The results showed that not only is there good reason to believe there is absolutely no harm caused by the vaccine, it is actually beneficial in reducing the risk of stillbirths.”
Dr Regan said women who contracted flu while pregnant were much more likely to end up in hospital.
“When pregnant your immune system is slightly depressed, so if you get an infection it tends to be much more severe and that is very likely to impact on the unborn baby,” she said.
“Getting a flu vaccine while pregnant not only reduces your risk of getting infected, it carries the additional benefit of passing on that protection to babies in their first six months before they are old enough to get vaccinated themselves.”
Dr Regan shared the prize with another study that examined the safety of malaria prophylaxis for pregnant women.
Aileen Plant was a renowned Australian infectious diseases epidemiologist and Curtin University professor who helped fight the SARS epidemic before her death of natural causes in 2007.