About 50 percent of pregnant women received flu shots last year. Doctors would like to see that number jump to 80 percent. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Flu season proved itself especially terrible last year, claiming the lives of more than 170 children.

As a new flu season sets in, it’s critical to remember that every person plays an essential role in the protection of self and others, beginning with proper hand-washing and good hygiene.

But vaccinations remain a leading tool in the battle against flu. The CDC recommends everyone age 6 months and older get vaccinated by the end of October.

Does this include pregnant women? Absolutely.

It is completely safe for pregnant women to get the flu shot at any point in their pregnancy, said David Colombo, MD, a Spectrum Health OB-GYN who specializes in maternal fetal medicine.

Last year, about half of all pregnant women got the flu shot.

“We’d like that number to be around 80-plus percent,” Dr. Colombo said.

When an expectant mom receives a vaccination, it’s completely safe for the growing baby.

“In fact, it may provide some protection for the baby in those first six months before the baby can actually receive the flu shot,” Dr. Colombo said.

Dr. Colombo provided more insights about flu vaccinations for pregnant women:

Q: Why is it important for expecting women to get the flu shot?

Pregnant women—similar to the elderly, people who have cancer, and babies—are more vulnerable because their immune systems are vulnerable. If a woman gets the flu while pregnant, it can harm the pregnancy and increase the risk of birth defects and premature delivery.

Q: What if I’m worried about getting the flu from receiving the vaccine?

This is a common misconception. The flu shot will not give you the flu.

The viruses are killed, so they won’t make you sick, but they will allow your body to build up antibodies to protect you from the flu.

The vaccine doesn’t guarantee you won’t get a strain of the flu, but if you do get it—and you are vaccinated—you may have milder symptoms and avoid hospitalization or even death.

Q: What about expecting dads? Grandparents? How important is it they get vaccinated?

Those who plan to be around an expecting mom or new baby should absolutely get vaccinated.

The healthy adults may get the flu and recover quickly, but again, due to vulnerable immune systems, pregnant moms and new babies won’t be able to fight off the flu as well and could end up hospitalized or have pregnancy complications.

When you don’t get the flu shot, you’re putting people around you at risk.