By Dena Vang
As cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant continue to raise concerns across the United States, doctors and public health officials are urging pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to get vaccinated. Here are four things pregnant women need to know about COVID-19 vaccines.
Pregnancy is a risk factor for having severe COVID-19 illness
Pregnant women are at a higher risk of hospitalization and getting severely ill from COVID-19 than non-pregnant women. Pregnancy causes changes in the body that make women more susceptible to respiratory viruses such as the one referred to as COVID-19.
“What we do know is that pregnant women have an immune system that is compromised and is not as strong as it necessarily may be if they were not pregnant,” said Dr. Michele Benoit-Wilson, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Benoit-Wilson is one of six Black female doctors in the Sister Circle, a group that is addressing vaccine inequity among minorities and getting vaccines into the arms of Black Americans.
“We are seeing more pregnant women getting infected,” she said. “We are seeing more pregnant women wind up in the ICU, and we are also seeing more people around them transmitting the virus. The solution has got to be vaccinating all of us and getting the message out that the vaccine is very safe.”
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for those who are pregnant
“The vaccine has no effect on fertility. We have real-world data for patients who have taken the vaccine and became pregnant afterwards,” said Dr. Rachel Villanueva, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and president of the National Medical Association.
“We know again that these vaccines are safe and effective. What should really be of concern to people wanting to get pregnant or are pregnant is getting COVID-19. So, that is the risk. That’s the real risk for our community.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance and recommendation on the COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women, following new data that further indicates safety and effectiveness throughout pregnancy.
In the new CDC analysis, nearly 2,500 women showed no increased risk of miscarriage for those who received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“We encourage our patients to get vaccinated every single day at every single patient encounter,” Benoit-Wilson said. “We know that the vaccine is safe in women who would like to get pregnant or are trying to get pregnant. There has been no increased risk of miscarriage that have been seen in women who have been vaccinated prior to pregnancy or in early pregnancy. We’ve not seen any increased risk in congenital or fetal malformations or high risk in pregnant women who have received the vaccine.”
There is no trimester that is safer than the other to get vaccinated
Currently, a COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for people 12 years of age and older, including women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, or may become pregnant in the future. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine at any point of pregnancy will help protect against COVID-19.
“We do know that the acute and the long-term effects of COVID infection far outweigh any potential impact of the vaccines,” Benoit-Wilson said. “The most important thing is to prevent by getting a vaccination, and vaccination is safe at any point of pregnancy, including the first trimester. We just want to stress that there is no pregnancy-related reason for why someone should not get the COVID vaccine. Prevention is going to be key.”
Getting vaccinated protects your newborn
Several studies, including a study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe and effective in pregnant and lactating women. These women can also pass down antibodies to their newborns.
The study involved 131 participants whose blood samples were taken at the time of the first and second doses of the vaccine and again after six weeks. The data showed that the level of antibodies for participants in response to the vaccine was higher than those participants who were sick with COVID-19 during pregnancy. Antibodies were also found in umbilical cord blood and breast milk.
Benoit-Wilson said, “Getting the vaccine during pregnancy is not only safer for the patient but also for the baby. We have the benefit of the research that has been done on pregnant women. A pregnant woman produces more antibodies that get transferred to the baby while she’s carrying the baby than the antibodies she would be able to give the baby during nursing and after delivery.”
To find a vaccine site, search vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you.
For resources and toolkits to help you build vaccine confidence in your community, visit the We Can Do This website.