Pregnancy and the COVID Vaccine: What Expecting Mothers Should Know

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“Is it safe for a pregnant woman to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?” This is the biggest question being asked of OB/GYNs right now. The short answer is “yes.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine have come out with strong recommendations that pregnant and lactating women receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Preliminary research suggests that vaccinating pregnant women even confers some protection against the virus to their babies through the placenta and breast milk.

With the more virulent and contagious Delta variant becoming the predominate strain in new cases, it is important to note that the vaccines are effective against it. Even when “breakthrough” cases occurs in a vaccinated person, the vaccine has been found to reduce the severity of the disease.

Obstetricians are being advised to counsel their patients to receive the vaccine if they are pregnant, postpartum, lactating or considering pregnancy. Having a conversation with her doctor will help an expecting mother decide what is best for her.

Among the concerns women have expressed about the vaccine is the potential for an adverse reaction. The COVID-19 vaccine, while safe, has been found to cause high fever, body aches and chills in some people. It is important to note that these types of reactions do not pose a risk to the baby, but that infection does. COVID-19 is associated with preeclampsia and preterm birth, and in one large study, pregnant women with COVID-19 were 22 times more likely to die as a result of their disease.

Pregnant women were added to the vaccine eligibility list in March in California, ahead of many people specifically because the benefits appear to outweigh the risk for pregnant women in general. And the CDC now recommends that all states include pregnant women in their vaccine rollouts.

Some of my patients ask about the novel nature of the vaccine. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to “teach” the body’s immune system how to fight off the coronavirus. While these types of vaccines have not been studied extensively in pregnant women, the science so far shows that there is no increased risk associated with mRNA in pregnancy.

Meanwhile, pregnant women are at increased risk of severe illness for COVID-19, with more at risk of dying compared to non-pregnant women. So, while it’s a very individualized decision, in general, it is safe to get the vaccine during pregnancy.

The message about safety is an important one, and over the past few months, I’ve noticed that it seems to be resonating. While vaccine hesitancy is not gone, it is definitely abating, as more information comes out about the safety of the immunization and the heightened risk of the disease.

That’s why my OB/gyn colleagues and I encourage conversations about vaccine safety, particularly from our patients who have to weigh complicated issues like side effects, environmental factors and overall health.

“Is it safe for a pregnant woman to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?”

I’m glad you asked.

Dr. Candace Howe is an OB/gyn at Hoag.