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Experts say it’s important for pregnant women to get a flu vaccination to protect themselves and their unborn child from the illness. Getty Images
  • The latest research on autism risk has determined there’s no link between the condition and flu vaccines given to pregnant women.
  • Experts say it’s important for pregnant women to get a flu shot to protect themselves and their unborn child against the illness.
  • This research is the latest in a long list of studies that have concluded there’s no connection between vaccines and autism risk.

Another study has determined there’s no link between the flu vaccine and autism.

The Swedish study published last week found no significant difference in children born to women who had the flu vaccine and those who didn’t.

Led by Dr. Jonas Ludvigsson from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the researchers used data from national health registers on babies born between October 2009 and September 2010.

During that time, nearly 40,000 infants were born to mothers who had received the flu vaccine and more than 29,000 infants were born to mothers who didn’t.

Experts say autism symptoms commonly show up before the age of 3, usually between 18 and 24 months.

Seven years after their initial data gathering, the researchers saw no significant difference in the rates of autism spectrum disorder among the children.

Various potential factors such as maternal smoking, height and weight, maternal age, trimester, and comorbidity were accounted for in the study.

“This is one more study that can help provide peace of mind to people who are pregnant,” said Dr. Christine Carlan Greves, a board certified OB-GYN at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Florida.

Greves says there’s no conclusive evidence that the flu shot causes autism, but with parental guilt, she does understand being concerned when parents see different reports on social media.

“We all want to do the best we can as ‘mama bear’ for our baby,” she told Healthline. “In no way would I recommend something unless I see the studies that show its benefits and that it’s not harmful.”

Dr. Kevin Ban, chief medical officer at Walgreens, told Healthline that “this finding, among other scientific studies shared by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] CDC further reinforces that getting a flu vaccine is safe during pregnancy.”

But experts say online misinformation and myths about vaccines and autism still pose a threat to vaccination rates.

“It’s quite possible to see certain things out there that don’t give you that sense of peace, and that just rock your heart, and leave you wondering if you’re hurting your baby by doing this to protect yourself,” said Greves.

“The flu shot is the best defense that we have at not getting the flu,” she added.

“With this flu season coinciding with COVID-19, it’s more important than ever for pregnant women to get vaccinated to help protect themselves and those around them from vaccine-preventable illnesses, as well as reduce the burden on the healthcare system,” said Ban.

Greves said that while seasonal flu viruses and the novel coronavirus are quite different, they both significantly affect the lungs.

“And as a pregnant woman, you will already have reduced lung function because of the fact that the baby is taking up some of that space,” she said.

Ban added that pregnant women are at higher risk of complications if they contract the flu because the body goes through changes during pregnancy that affect the immune system, heart, and lungs.

The general safety and importance of getting vaccinated against preventable illness, for both mom and baby, have been established.

“Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant during the flu season should get a flu shot at any trimester to protect both themselves and the baby from getting the flu,” said Ban.

“It’s not like we can do that with COVID-19 because a vaccine isn’t even available at the moment,” Greves added.

According to experts, there’s no one cause for autism spectrum disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder is an umbrella condition in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It currently contains subcategories that were once standalone diagnoses, including Asperger syndrome and autistic disorder.

Prevalence of autism in children is about 1 in 54, according to estimates from the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

Genetic, non-genetic, environmental, and other factors can play roles in diagnosis.

Research continues to say vaccines aren’t one of them.

A 2019 study of more than 500,000 people, the largest single study to date, found no link between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.

“So there’s a lot of information out there,” said Greves. “And there’s ‘mom guilt.’ In this case, if you don’t have that peace in your heart about it, just talk to your doctor. That’s what we’re here for.”

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