Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant?

If you’re pregnant, you may be wondering whether you should get one of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Is it safe for you and your unborn child for you to get one of the vaccines?

The answer is yes, according to the nation’s leading public health experts.

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The American College of Obstetrician Gynecologists (ACOG), the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommend vaccinating women who are breastfeeding, women who are pregnant and women who are trying to get pregnant.

“The recommendation that women who are breastfeeding, pregnant or planning pregnancy get vaccinated has only gotten stronger over time,” said Michael Leonardi, MD, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist for OSF HealthCare. “The COVID vaccines are some of the most thoroughly studied drugs we have ever given – in particular to pregnant women.

“The best way to take care of a baby in utero is to take care of the mother who is carrying the baby. The best way to take care of a newborn is to ensure the people caring for the newborn are vaccinated and COVID-free.”

Women who are vaccinated before or during pregnancy make antibodies against COVID-19, which cross the placenta into the baby, just like antibodies against anything the mother has ever been infected with or vaccinated against. These antibodies are detectable in the baby.

Breast milk, too, has been shown to have antibodies against COVID-19 in women who received the vaccination while pregnant or after delivery.

“Breast milk is an amazing gift that mothers give their children,” Dr. Leonardi said. “Being vaccinated enriches that gift by potentially providing some protection against COVID.”

Weigh the risks

“There is data showing that pregnant women who get COVID – regardless of severity – are at increased risk for pre-eclampsia and preterm birth, which can have lifelong consequences for the baby,” Dr. Leonardi said.

There is also very concerning data coming from areas with high rates of COVID-19 in pregnant women due to low vaccination rates and high community prevalence that shows at least a doubling of the risk for stillbirth in women infected with COVID-19 at any time during pregnancy.

According to the CDC, pregnant women are three times more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit, 2.9 times more likely to require ventilation, 2.4 times more likely to need an oxygenation pump and 1.5 times more likely to die than women who aren’t pregnant.

Older pregnant women (ages 35-44) are at particularly high risk and were nearly four times more likely to require invasive ventilation. They are twice as likely to die, too. And women who are severely ill with COVID-19 in the third trimester can pass the infection to the fetus in utero or at delivery.

The increased risk for a severe outcome is likely related to changes within your body during pregnancy, including increased oxygen consumption and decreased lung capacities.

“The risk of getting infected and suffering serious harm is far greater in pregnant women than the risk posed by getting the vaccine,” Dr. Leonardi said.

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As with all medications in pregnancy, you should make your decision based on the best available information about the effectiveness of the medication, the potential risks of the medication and the risk of the disease if the medication is not received.

You should also consider your exposure risk, the prevalence of the virus in your community and any pregnancy-related health issues, like gestational diabetes, that may increase your risk for serious illness from COVID-19.

Vaccine risk believed to be low

There is no data to indicate the vaccines are dangerous to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

In addition, the New England Journal of Medicine published results of a study of 3,958 pregnant women where findings did not indicate any significant safety concerns for those who receive the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Further, the study found that any adverse pregnancy and fetal outcomes in those vaccinated against COVID-19 who had a completed pregnancy were similar to incidences reported in studies involving pregnant women during pre-pandemic times.

And please remember, getting vaccinated does not reduce your need to continue following all public health safety guidelines. That means masking, washing your hands often and minding your distance when you’re in public.

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Birth & Maternity, COVID-19