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Is the Covid-19 Vaccine Safe for Pregnant Women?

The World Health Organization (WHO) first announced that it does not recommend Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women, but quickly changed its advice at the end of January, 2021. With all this back and forth, which advice should concerned pregnant women listen to?

A COVID-19 infection during pregnancy can lead to fatal outcomes for both the mother and the baby. Pregnant women must take all the precautions they can to protect themselves and their unborn baby. The COVID-19 vaccine has proven to be one of the most efficacious means of protection against the virus. Still, there have been concerns about the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women.

To provide clarity for pregnant women who are indecisive about whether or not to take the vaccine, here are diligently researched answers to commonly asked questions about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy.

How does the COVID-19 Vaccine Work?

Vaccines help people build immunity to a virus by training their immune system to recognize and fight specific germs. A vaccine intentionally introduces a less harmful part of the germ that causes the disease, or something similar, to the body. In response, the body’s immune system produces antibodies, the protective proteins that help prevent future infection if the body ever comes across the germ again.

Circulating the internet is the myth that COVID-19 vaccines can give people COVID-19. This myth comes from the misunderstanding that the vaccine uses the live virus that causes the disease. That is not true.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has spikes of protein called S protein on each viral participle. The S protein enables the virus to attach and enter cells in humans. The vaccines help the body recognize that the S protein doesn't belong there and begin building immune response.

How many types of COVID-19 Vaccines are there and how effective are they?

While more than 60 vaccines are undergoing a three-stage clinical trial process, two vaccines are authorized for use in the United States: PfizerBioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: This vaccine is for people aged 16 and older and has an efficacy rate of 95%. That means approximately 95% of people who receive the vaccine are protected from a coronavirus infection. This vaccine requires two doses given 21 days apart, but the second dose can be given up to six weeks after the first dose if needed.

  • Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine: This vaccine is for people aged 18 and older and has an efficacy rate of 94.1%. It requires two doses given 28 days apart, but the second dose can be given up to six weeks after the first if needed.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines. That means both vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA). The vaccines contain material from the coronavirus that gives cells instructions on making a harmless piece of an S protein. After vaccination, the cells make copies of the S protein, destroy the genetic material from the vaccine, and begin displaying the protein copies on cell surfaces. The immune system will recognize that the protein does not belong there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight coronavirus (the virus that causes COVID-19) if infected in the future.

Do medical experts recommend pregnant women take the vaccine?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine are just a few organizations that recommend pregnant women get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Even the World Health Organization wrote on its website: “Based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women.”

So why was there so much uncertainty at the beginning?

COVID-19 is a relatively new disease, and pregnant women were largely excluded from the clinical trials of the vaccines. The WHO was not clear on its recommendations because many experts have not studied COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant women.

Why do most medical experts now believe the vaccines are safe for pregnant women?

Although the vaccine is new, the technology isn’t. It’s been studied for decades and looked at for other viruses and even cancer research. Also, there have been unintended pregnancies during clinical trials with great outcomes. Women who were unaware of their pregnancy participated in the clinical trials, and no complications were reported.

Will the vaccine protect the unborn child?

The immunity that a pregnant woman develops after vaccination can cross the placenta and help protect the baby after birth.

Do the vaccines protect against the COVID variants?

According to early research, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can protect against variants of COVID-19 identified in South Africa and the U.K.

What are the risks/side effects of the vaccine?

The vaccine may cause side effects that resemble the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Mild side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine include:

  • Pain, redness or swelling where the shot was given

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Headache

  • Muscle pain

  • Chills

  • Joint pain

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Feeling unwell

  • Swollen lymph nodes

Elizabeth Espinal, a pregnant research coordinator, discussed her experience of getting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “The injection itself is fine. It’s just like taking any other or flu shot. In the end, all I had was a sore arm,” Elizabeth explained in an episode of the 20-Minute Health Talk podcast by Northwell Health.

What should pregnant women consider when deciding to take the vaccine?

Getting vaccinated is a personal choice for pregnant women. However, medical experts are providing different recommendations for people based on their individual risks.

Healthcare Workers: It is recommended that pregnant women who work in healthcare (or live with a healthcare worker) get vaccinated because they are at an increased risk of infection.

Allergies: The World Health Organization recommends that people with a history of severe allergic reactions to any of the vaccine’s components, including polyethylene glycol or polysorbate, should not get the vaccine.

Benefits/Risks: As a pregnant woman, if you believe that the benefits of receiving the vaccine outweigh the risks, you may like to be vaccinated.

Find out more about how CDC is making recommendations for COVID-19 vaccination.

If you are pregnant and unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, speak with your healthcare provider about your concerns. Vaccination is one of the many safety measures you can take to protect yourself and others from the disease. Whether or not you get vaccinated, remember to practice safety measures provided by CDC:

  • Wearing a mask

  • Staying at least six feet away from others

  • Avoiding crowds

  • Washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol

  • Following CDC travel guide

  • Following quarantine guidance after exposure to COVID-19

  • Following any applicable workplace guidance

For more information, read Vaccination Considerations for People who are Pregnant or Breastfeeding, and speak with your healthcare provider.


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