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Moms-to-be urged to get vaccine

POSTED: November 23, 2009 9:42 a.m.
Photo by Denise Etheridge/

Maj. Dr. Shannon Ellis, chief of preventive medicine at Winn Army Community Hospital, stands outside the women's clinic.

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Winn Army Community Hospital health care providers are encouraging pregnant mothers to get the H1N1 vaccine to protect themselves and their unborn children. Pregnant women are at high risk for contracting the swine flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maj. Dr. Shannon Ellis, chief of preventive medicine at Winn Army Community Hospital, said there have been cases of pregnant women who got the virus and died from complications related to the disease, he said.
“We encourage pregnant women to be vaccinated for H1N1 and for the seasonal flu,” Ellis said. “Most are taking it. We explain it’s safe for the baby. The fetus gets passive immunity from the mother through the umbilical cord.”
The doctor added immunized mothers who nurse their newborn infants will also pass on antibodies through their breast milk, strengthening their babies’ immune systems to H1N1.
Winn Army Community Hospital received 10,420 doses of the H1N1 vaccine earlier this month and vaccinated nearly 1,500 people on Nov. 6. However, not all of the estimated 700 expectant mothers connected to Fort Stewart have been vaccinated for H1N1, Ellis said.
“About 270 of the 700 expectant mothers are in their third trimester and
are at the highest risk,” he said. “About 20 percent of those have gotten the vaccine.”
Ellis said the number of those in their third trimester who received vaccinations could be higher than 20 percent, since many military dependents see doctors off post. He emphasized that even those women who see civilian obstetricians can still get the H1N1 vaccine at Winn’s immunization clinic.
The post physician said pregnant women should not fear getting vaccinated for swine flu. The vaccine, he said, is safe.
“This year’s H1N1 is not different that the seasonal (flu) vaccine,” he said. “It’s manufactured in the same way.”
Ellis said Winn has given thousands of doses of the H1N1 vaccine so far this year and hasn’t yet had one allergic reaction to the vaccine.
“It hardly ever happens,” he said.
Ellis explained there are two ways to administer the H1N1 vaccine: as a mist or by injection. He cautioned the mist version of H1N1 should never be administered to pregnant women because it is a live virus. The mist is most often administered to small children, he said.
Expectant mother and Army spouse Jessica Mummert, 24, is pregnant with her second child. Her husband, Spc. Shane Mummert with the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, will deploy next month. Their new baby is due Christmas Day.
Mummert said she was immunized Nov. 10 for H1N1 after researching both the virus and the vaccination. The young mother said she was vaccinated to protect her health, that of her unborn baby and the health of her 16-month old son.
“They don’t have the vaccine available for children under age 2 yet,” she said.” My staying healthy will help him stay healthy.”
Mummert said she has observed a lot of concern in the military community about the safety of the vaccine.
“A lot of pregnant women I was in contact with on the (online) message boards were worried the vaccine was produced too fast and released too quickly,” she said.
The Army wife said she was convinced to get the vaccine when she read that 4 percent of pregnant women who get H1N1 die from complications related to the virus.
“That’s a pretty significant percentage,” Mummert said.
She said the fear of the H1N1 vaccine is worse than the actual experience of being vaccinated.
“It (the vaccination) did not affect me at all,” Mummert said. “The actual injection site hurt less than the regular seasonal flu shot I got.”
In addition to being pregnant and thus at high risk for H1N1, Mummert also has asthma, which puts her in another high risk category for getting the virus.
“The highest risk groups are pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses,” said Col. Rita Chesney, a certified nurse midwife. Chesney sees patients at the Women’s Health Clinic on the Winn Army Community Hospital campus.
Chesney said many of the expectant mothers she sees are more worried about getting the flu than about getting immunized.
She and other health care providers try to educate their patients about H1N1 and how to protect themselves from contracting the virus. The clinic provides patients a weekly e-mail newsletter with health tips and a step-by-step guide about the various stages of pregnancy and what to expect at each stage. They also send out an additional email offering information on H1N1.
Other groups at risk for H1N1 include people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months old, health-care and emergency medical services personnel and those with compromised immune systems, according to hospital officials.
For more information, call Winn Army Community Hospital at 435-6878.
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