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Expert Q&A

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Will my anthrax vaccination hurt my unborn child?

Asked by Danette, California

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I am enlisted in the military and recently had an anthrax shot. Then a week later, I found out that I am pregnant. Will this shot have an effect on my pregnancy or child?

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Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thank you for your question and, more importantly, for serving our country.

The anthrax vaccine is one of many vaccines that, as a precaution, are not recommended for women who are known to be pregnant. That said, the anthrax vaccine is inactivated (not live) and as such would not be expected to cause problems with pregnancy or an unborn baby's development. Pregnant women are also advised to receive the vaccine if the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

While there have been few studies looking at anthrax vaccines given during pregnancy (since it is not routine practice to give it to women who are pregnant), one report looked at over 37,000 women in the military who received an anthrax vaccine. This study showed that the number of birth defects in children born to women who had received the vaccine during the first trimester of pregnancy was roughly the same as in a similar group of women who had received the vaccine later in the pregnancy or even after the pregnancy.

In studies of men, an anthrax vaccine does not appear to cause problems with fertility. Some animal studies have shown that stimulating the immune system during pregnancy may actually be associated with a decrease in the number of birth defects. Further, research on rabbits receiving the anthrax vaccine has shown no problems with pregnancy, fetal development or lactation.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which makes recommendations about vaccines and reports to the secretary of Health and Human Services and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is reviewing the anthrax vaccine and may provide more guidance soon.

I advise all pregnant women to seek regular prenatal care. If you have any concerns about your pregnancy or the way your baby is developing, be sure to talk with your obstetrician or midwife, who can follow you closely and look for any problems that may or may not be related to the anthrax vaccine. I wish you the best of luck.

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