Should Pregnant Women Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for a couple of months now, but many remain uncertain on whether getting it is the right choice. While many organizations, such as The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend allowing pregnant women to have the option to get vaccinated, the choice will be different for everyone based on their individual circumstances and ultimately is up to you. Here, Daniel Roshan, M.D., F.A.C.O.G, F.A.C.S and Director, ROSH Maternal-Fetal Medicine, helps answer some frequently asked questions. Remember, as you do your research to inform your decision, always check in with your doctor.
While pregnant or lactating women were not studied in clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine, it is strongly recommended for them to be offered the vaccine. This is especially true for those who are frontline workers or at higher risk for another reason, such as chronic medical problems, especially respiratory-related. You should, of course, discuss with your OB.
For ethical reasons, pregnant and lactating women are almost never participants in trials for vaccines or medications—this is not unique to the COVID19 vaccine. Once drugs or vaccines are approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), governing bodies for obstetrical and maternal-fetal medicine societies conduct their own research and extrapolate what is known about the vaccine or drug and the possible impact on pregnancy and/or breastfeeding. Recommendations then come from these governing bodies for or against vaccines or medications while pregnant or while breastfeeding. As for the COVID19 vaccine, all medical societies, including The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists or ACOG, and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine or SMFM, have released recommendations in favor of vaccinating pregnant and lactating women.
While some vaccines are contraindicated in pregnancy like varicella or measles, others such as TDaP (whooping cough) and the influenza vaccine are encouraged in pregnancy and have been for many years. What’s the difference? TDaP and flu vaccines are not live vaccines. This means there is no live part of a virus that is used to trigger an immune response in your body. Much like these vaccines, the available COVID19 vaccines do not use a live virus for injection. Instead, mRNA, which is a replication of part of the DNA of the COVID19 virus, is used to mimic the virus in the body. This mRNA, without causing illness, works by triggering an immune response in the body to create immunity, at least partially, to COVID19.
We know how this COVID19 vaccine and the mRNA works because it has been studied for decades for possible use in other vaccines such as influenza, Zika, and even rabies. While it has not been put into production for vaccines until COVID19, mRNA technology has been widely used to target cancer cells in the world of oncology safely for many years. So, while it may seem like pharmaceutical companies rushed for the production of these vaccines, the scientific basis of the production has been studied for use in other vaccines and used for many years in other areas of medicine.
What’s riskier, getting the COVID-19 vaccine as a pregnant woman, or contracting COVID-19? Will I contract the virus from the vaccine?
Based on the science behind the COVID19 vaccine coupled with the studies that were conducted prior to approval by the FDA, we can extrapolate that the mechanism of the vaccine is safe for pregnant and lactating women. The vaccine is much safer than becoming infected with COVID19 during pregnancy as we know the many issues infection during pregnancy can cause. Even better news, the fact that the COVID19 vaccine uses mRNA and not a piece of the live virus means there is absolutely no way a patient could become infected with COVID19! So, while pregnant or lactating women were not a part of the clinical trials for the development of the COVID19 vaccine, we also wouldn’t expect them to be. Until we know that vaccines or medications are safe for people in general, we would not give them to pregnant women, children, lactating women, or other vulnerable populations.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
Published January 2021