The CDC is now urgently recommending that people who are pregnant, recently pregnant and lactating, or trying to get pregnant get vaccinated as soon as possible. As of Sept. 2021, there have been over 22,000 hospitalized cases of COVID-19 in pregnant people and vaccination coverage remains low. Only about 31% of pregnant people are fully vaccinated before or during pregnancy.
COVID-19 vaccine research shows that individuals who are fully vaccinated are well-protected against developing severe COVID-19 — even with a new, highly transmissible variant in the mix.
However, some who are pregnant still have reservations about getting vaccinated.
"While you may have some anxiety regarding these new vaccines, it's important to know all the facts so that you can make an informed decision for both you and your baby,” recommends Dr. Lexanne Mauney, OB-GYN at Houston Methodist.
For starters, know that the CDC, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) have all endorsed COVID-19 vaccination in pregnant women.
This official recommendation is an evidence-based one. While initial vaccine studies did not include individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding, mounting evidence demonstrates that COVID-19 vaccination is safe during pregnancy.
Dr. Mauney is here to explain what we know about COVID-19 vaccines and COVID-19 itself, as each relates to pregnancy, as well as what to consider when it comes to getting vaccinated.
CDC data has determined vaccination is safe for pregnant individuals
The CDC released new data on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant women based on additional evidence about COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy.
The report analyzed data from three safety monitoring systems put in place to gather information about COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy. These early data did not find any safety concerns for vaccinated pregnant women or their babies, suggesting that the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy.
One such safety monitoring system in place includes the CDC’s v-safe COVID-19 vaccine pregnancy registry, which, to date, includes almost 150,000 participants who report being pregnant at the time of their vaccination.
This is welcome news to combine with what we already knew about the safety of these vaccines — including that the genetic material in the vaccines cannot affect your DNA or your baby's DNA.
"Additionally, there’s no need for you to avoid or stop breastfeeding after receiving the vaccine, and it's not necessary to delay pregnancy after receiving it, either," adds Dr. Mauney.
The CDC has stated, however, that women under the age of 50 should be aware of the rare but increased risk of experiencing an adverse event called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receiving Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. There are other COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S., Pfizer and Moderna, that have not shown this risk.
"The only other minor concern is the potential for a severe allergic reaction, which is very rare and typically occurs within 15 minutes of receiving the vaccine. For this reason, we're monitoring every individual we vaccinate for 15 to 20 minutes after he or she receives the vaccine," explains Dr. Mauney.
Not getting vaccinated comes with risks
"What we know is that a significantly higher percentage of pregnant people are hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, compared to nonpregnant people. In addition, they're more likely to be admitted into the ICU and in need of ventilator support," warns Dr. Mauney.
In fact, the CDC is now urgently recommending that people who are pregnant, recently pregnant and lactating, or trying to get pregnant get vaccinated as soon as possible. As of Sept. 2021, there have been over 22,000 hospitalized cases of COVID-19 in pregnant people and vaccination coverage for pregnant people remains low. Only about 31% of pregnant people are fully vaccinated before or during pregnancy.
Furthermore, those who are pregnant and have certain underlying health conditions have an even higher risk. These health conditions include:
- Advanced heart conditions
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Type 2 diabetes
We also know early data suggests that receiving an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy reduces the risk of infection. A recent study from Israel compared pregnant women who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine with those who did not, and scientists found that vaccination lowered the risk of infection from the virus that causes COVID-19.
Lastly, when pregnant women receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, their bodies build antibodies against COVID-19, similar to non-pregnant women. Antibodies produced after a pregnant woman received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine were found in umbilical cord blood. This means COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy might help protect babies against COVID-19.
Your doctor can help you make an informed decision that takes important factors into account
When it comes to making an informed decision about getting vaccinated, Dr. Mauney recommends gathering the facts and reaching out to your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have.
"It's important to know the specific, sometimes personal, factors you should take into account while making your decision," explains Dr. Mauney.
These important factors to consider are:
- Your personal risk of exposure, based on rate of spread in your area and your household risk
- Your risk if you choose not to get vaccinated (given your personal health history)
- The effectiveness of the vaccine(s) made available to you
- The potential risk of maternal diseases, and corresponding severity
- The overall safety of the vaccine
"Discussing these personal and universal factors with your doctor can help you make a confident, informed decision that's right for you and your baby," says Dr. Mauney.
Lastly, the COVID-19 vaccines do have side effects, with the most frequent ones being soreness at the injection site, headache and fatigue. While less common, some people may also experience fever.
"If you do develop a fever following either dose of the vaccine, you can take acetaminophen. This pain reliever is proven safe for those who are pregnant and doesn't seem to affect how your immune system responds to the vaccine."