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What Will It Take to Increase Maternal Vaccination Rates?

Maternal vaccines can protect pregnant moms and vulnerable babies. So why aren’t more women getting them?

A new white paper, Improving Maternal Immunization Status, sheds light on this important question.

Maternal Vaccination Challenges

The white paper highlights two challenges related to vaccination and expectant moms.

  1. Inadequate data. Determining which women experience gaps in vaccination is difficult because a comprehensive record of vaccinated pregnant women does not exist in the United States. Establishing a widely used vaccine registry or immunization information system could help identify coverage gaps. Once armed with this information, health care professionals and policymakers could direct targeted campaigns to reach the communities with the lowest rates.
  2. Poor coordination and implementation of maternal immunization programs. The people developing programs at the federal level and the health care professionals implementing those programs in the states are not communicating well with one another. Greater collaboration is necessary for overcoming on-the-ground challenges and testing solution-driven approaches. California, for example, is piloting a program that provides clinics with Tdap starter doses so providers will have vaccines on site. This negates having pregnant women return for a subsequent appoint once the vaccine is stocked or go elsewhere to get vaccinated.

Educating Expectant Moms

Overcoming low maternal vaccine rates also requires education. Expectant moms may be unaware that getting these shots protects their baby during the “window of vulnerability” – before newborns can receive their own vaccinations.

Newborns whose mothers receive both shots during pregnancy are 81% less likely to be hospitalized with flu before they are six months old. They are also 78% less likely to get pertussis – whooping cough – in their first two months of life, as compared to newborns whose moms did not receive the shots.

Despite the benefits, just 40% of expectant moms got the recommended flu and Tdap – the combination of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis – vaccines in 2019. Rates were even lower among Black and Hispanic expectant moms.

An Essential Part of Prenatal Care

Overcoming the challenges outlined in the paper will take time and resources. But the data supporting maternal immunization vaccine recommendations are compelling and, as the authors note, the shots are “an essential part of prenatal care.”

Fifteen prominent public health, professional and maternal health organizations contributed to the paper. Read more about the challenges and solutions in Improving Maternal Immunization Status.