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Can I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine If I Am Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

Jan. 12, 2021 - Katie McCallum

In Dec. 2020, the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for two COVID-19 vaccines: the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, you may be wondering whether these new vaccines are safe for you and your baby.

"The current COVID-19 vaccines are being made available to people who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding," says Dr. Lexanne Mauney, OB-GYN at Houston Methodist. "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."

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 whether or not you should get vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccines haven't been tested in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding yet

As of right now, there's unfortunately no clinical trial data regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people or those who are breastfeeding.

"While the initial studies did not include individuals who are pregnant, future clinical trials will look at vaccine safety as it relates to pregnancy," explains Dr. Mauney. "In the meantime, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that there's no data suggesting that the vaccine cannot be given before, during or after pregnancy. In addition, it adds that no serious concerns were raised during Developmental and Reproductive Toxicity (DART) studies for the currently available Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines."

DART studies are conducted in animal models, but the results do provide early safety data that helps inform the safety of these vaccines.

"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.

What we do know about the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines is that they can neither cause COVID-19 or affect your DNA or your baby's DNA.

"The only concern we have about vaccination right now 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.

This doesn't mean choosing not to get vaccinated is the safer choice, however

While there's currently no vaccine safety data surrounding pregnancy, there is data suggesting that pregnant people are at an increased risk of developing severe illness as a result of COVID-19.

"What we know is that a significantly higher percentage of pregnant people are hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, as 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.

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)
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes

Given the health risks associated with contracting this disease, COVID-19 vaccines are being offered to those who are pregnant and meet current criteria for priority vaccination groups.

Your doctor can help you make an informed decision that takes important factors into account

When it comes to deciding whether the vaccine is right for you, Dr. Mauney, the CDC and the ACOG all recommend gathering the facts and reaching out to your health care provider if you need help making an informed decision.

"Given what we don't know about these vaccines but what we do know about the disease itself, it's important to know the specific, sometimes personal, factors you should take into account while making your decision," explains Dr. Mauney.

The 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.

Your doctor can also counsel you on what you need to know if you do decide to get vaccinated, including when the best time for your vaccination may be and what to do if you experience side effects.

"For instance, you'll need to consider the timing of the other vaccinations you may need during your pregnancy, such as the Tdap and influenza vaccine. This is because COVID-19 vaccines shouldn't be administered within 14 days of receiving another vaccine," explains Mauney. "Your doctor can help you safely prioritize any vaccines you may need during your pregnancy, taking the COVID-19 vaccine into account."

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 to be safe for those who are pregnant and doesn't seem to affect how your immune system responds to the vaccine."

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