COVID-19 vaccines have slowly been rolling out to the U.S. population. This leaves many women wondering about the risks and benefits, especially if they are currently breastfeeding, pregnant, or considering pregnancy in the future of getting a vaccine. What do the studies show about the risks and rewards of the COVID vaccine and pregnancy?
How Safe is the COVID-19 Vaccine for Pregnant Women?
Currently, all of the available data suggests that the vaccine is safe; however, each person must weigh their individual decision to receive the vaccine or not with their doctor.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant and breastfeeding women. They point out that “symptomatic pregnant patients with COVID-19 are at increased risk of more severe illness compared with nonpregnant peers.” The latest data shows that there is a three-fold risk for ICU admission for pregnant women that contract COVID.
The Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM), “Strongly recommends that pregnant and lactating people have access to the COVID-19 vaccines.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 clinical vaccine trials did not include breastfeeding or pregnant women. The Harvard Medical School says, “Our direct knowledge is currently limited. Further information may be available in the coming months.” That’s because some of the women in the test groups for the COVID vaccine became pregnant during the trials.
The CDC confirms that pregnant women with COVID are at higher risk of severe illness, “including illness that results in ICU admission, mechanical ventilation, and death.”
Ultimately, receiving the vaccine is a decision for each person. Talk with your doctor about your individual risks versus the benefits of this potentially life-saving vaccine.
How Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Work?
Before making a decision about the COVID vaccination shot, it’s important to understand how the vaccine works. Interestingly, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines do not work in the same way that standard vaccines work. The COVID-19 inoculation is a new type of vaccine called the mRNA. “Normal” vaccines, such as the flu shot, gives your immune system a little sample of the flu virus. It does this by inserting a small deactivated (weakened) batch of the flu virus into your arm. The body learns to recognize and attack this invader. That keeps you from getting a severe case of that influenza strain later on.
The mRNA vaccine does not work in this way at all. The mRNA vaccine teaches our cells to make a protein that triggers an immune response against the COVID virus. It’s important to note that this new type of vaccine has been worked on for three decades. They have been held to rigorous Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards. Scientists are even using this type of technology to trigger the immune system to attack cancer cells.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Future mRNA vaccine technology may allow for one vaccine to provide protection for multiple diseases, thus decreasing the number of shots needed for protection against common vaccine-preventable diseases.
While this science is still evolving, it holds real promise for many types of illnesses. In terms of the COVID-19 vaccine, what you should know at this point, is that the shot does not inoculate you with the coronavirus. Simply put, you cannot get COVID from the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, even after you get a shot, you still may contract the illness. Each variation of the vaccine has different effectiveness. Yale Medicine reports that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have about a 95% efficacy rate, meaning that 5% of those who got the shot still contracted COVID. But, all of those cases were mild and not one of them required hospitalization or led to death. Which means that both vaccines are 100% effective at preventing the most serious cases of the disease.
Should I Get the COVID Vaccine?
Deciding whether to seek out the COVID vaccine, when you are eligible to receive it, is a personal decision that you can make with your family and in consultation with your doctor.
A recent study of pregnant women and mothers with young children in 16 countries found that most were planning to get the vaccine as long as it was “free and safe.”
Some of the questions to ask your doctor if you are pregnant, thinking about pregnancy, or are currently breastfeeding include:
- What health issues do I have that could affect my decision to have the vaccine?
- Do you recommend the shot?
- What side effects may I experience?
- If I test positive for COVID-19, when is it okay to become pregnant?
- I’m pregnant. How will COVID-19 affect my pregnancy?
- I’m breastfeeding and have a positive COVID-19 test. What should I do?
- How will COVID-19 affect my unborn child?
For fertility patients, some good questions include:
- How does your facility keep patients safe from COVID?
- Is there any risk that my fertility treatment cycle could be affected by COVID-19 or by getting the vaccine?
- Are my frozen eggs, sperm, and embryos safe from COVID and how will the shot affect them?
- What are the pros and cons of starting or resuming fertility treatments right now?
There is never any “one size fits all” approach to your health. Pregnancy and fertility for women is an individualized journey, as are the treatments and approaches to each. That’s why it’s so important to have a trusted, experienced medical team on your side. The Jacksonville Center for Reproductive Medicine has an excellent track record of care for our patients. If you are wondering about the COVID vaccine and pregnancy, please don’t hesitate to reach out to speak with our team.