As Covid cases rise across the country, RSV cases spike in the Southeast and flu is circulating in the Southern Hemisphere, US health officials urge pregnant women to protect themselves and their developing babies against severe respiratory illnesses. 

“The good news here is that we have effective ways to protect ourselves from the worst outcomes of all of these respiratory illnesses,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH said in a press conference for the National Institute for Infectious Diseases (NFID).  

During pregnancy and in the first 40 days after birth, women are at high risk for severe complications from both Covid and flu (flu infection during pregnancy is associated with higher risk of preterm birth, babies born with low birth weight, or pregnancy loss). Vaccination against the two viruses can help prevent hospitalization and severe effects, but uptake for both has been low. 

“We know that only about 47% of pregnant women received a flu vaccine during the 2022-23 season,” stated NFID Medical Director Robert H. Hopkins, Jr., MD. “That wasn’t a big change from the previous season during the pandemic, but that’s down over 10% from the rates of pregnant women who were vaccinated against flu prior to the pandemic.”

“Only 27% of women received a COVID-19 bivalent booster before or during their pregnancy last year,” Dr. Hopkins said. It’s concerning, he noted. 

RSV causes an estimated 80,000 hospitalizations among children under 5 each year, but a new 

maternal RSV vaccination given during pregnancy can help protect infants from birth to 6 months. 

“For the first time, we have immunizations available to help protect against the 3 major respiratory viruses—COVID-19, flu, and RSV,” said Dr. Cohen. “I strongly encourage you and your family to get the immunizations that are right for you. We must use all available tools to protect those most at risk, including infants and young children, pregnant people, older adults, and those with chronic health conditions.”

Per the CDC, flu and Covid vaccination before or during pregnancy (at any trimester) is safe and effective for you and your developing baby—and the benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential risks. Getting the shots during pregnancy or while breastfeeding means you’re also able to offer protection to your newborn—who won’t be eligible for their own flu or Covid vaccination until 6 months of age. 

Here’s what else to know about flu, Covid, RSV vaccination in pregnancy

1. Aim to get your flu shot by Halloween 

A yearly flu shot is recommended at the start of flu season in September, or at least by Halloween, for all children over 6 months, adults and pregnant people. The flu shot has been around for more than 50 years, and has strong safety and efficacy data behind it. 

2. You can get an updated Covid booster at any point in your pregnancy

Sooner is always best to ensure you’re protected, but previous research has shown that perhaps the ideal time to get vaccinated in pregnancy may be between 20 and 32 weeks gestation.  

3. The maternal RSV vaccine should be given toward the end of pregnancy

The CDC recommends Pfizer’s Abrysvo be given between weeks 32 and 36 of pregnancy. The vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of RSV hospitalization for babies by 57% in the first six months after birth. Also available is an RSV immunization to be given to babies after birth. 

Pregnant? Take precautions against flu, Covid, RSV

If you do get the flu or Covid during pregnancy, take early action to seek out doctor-prescribed antiviral medications, some of which may be safe for pregnancy, and take them as directed. It’s also important to take everyday preventive actions, including avoiding people who are sick, always practicing good hygiene such as washing your hands often and covering coughs and sneezes. You may want to consider wearing a high-quality mask in crowded spaces or healthcare settings as an extra layer of protection, too.