Pregnant woman consulting with her health care provider about vaccinations.

Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant?

If you’re pregnant, you may be wondering whether you should get a COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant. Is it safe for you and your unborn child?

According to the world’s leading health organizations, there is no evidence that the new vaccines are harmful for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. On the other hand, your risk for getting dangerously ill from COVID-19 is much higher if you’re pregnant.

“If a person meets the criteria for vaccination, breastfeeding or pregnancy should not change their priority for receiving the vaccine,” said Michael Leonardi, MD, with Maternal-Fetal Medicine at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

Weigh the risks

Although the absolute risks are low and most pregnant women with the coronavirus do not become severely ill, symptomatic pregnant women with confirmed COVID-19 are at a significantly higher risk for severe complications due to the infection.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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 greater in pregnant women than the risk posed by getting the vaccine,” Dr. Leonardi said.

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 to yourself and your unborn child and the risk of the disease to yourself and your unborn child 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

The COVID-19 vaccines have not been formally tested on pregnant women, but they have shown no harmful effects in animal studies. There is no data to indicate the vaccines are dangerous to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The modern technology used in the vaccines is believed to be safe in general. The theoretical risk from mRNA vaccines, which includes the COVID-19 vaccines, is very low.

The CDC, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists  recommend that the vaccine should not be withheld from women based on pregnancy and breastfeeding status. What does this mean for you? It means you should reach out to your obstetrician or primary care physician for help deciding if the vaccine is right for you.

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