UPDATE: As of February 22, 2021, all pregnant women of any age will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as announced by the Louisiana Department of Health.
We’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines so we can get back to the NOLA we know and love. Now that two of these marvels of modern medicine are here—with more on the way—many expectant mothers are wondering whether it’s safe to get the shots during pregnancy.
The short answer—data points on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people are lacking, but experts say moms-to-be should have the opportunity to get the shot when they’re eligible.
First things first—COVID-19 risks during pregnancy
Something that’s become apparent to researchers and physicians as the pandemic has progressed is that pregnant women are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. That’s a key reason why experts say women who are pregnant should be able to get vaccinated if they want to.
“We know that COVID-19 in pregnancy places patients at increased risk for adverse outcomes compared to non-pregnant people of the same age,” said Stacey L. Holman, MD, FACOG, Associate Division Director of Maternal Child Health at Touro, Women’s Health Center Director at University Medical Center New Orleans, and Associate Residency Program Director and Clinical Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. “This includes higher risks of hospitalization, intensive care unit admission and need for ventilator support. These patients’ risk is further increased if they have medical problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that expectant mothers with COVID-19 may have a higher risk for preterm birth, which can cause a variety of health problems for babies.
A shot at prevention
Pregnant women were not included in clinical trials of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which are the only ones currently approved for emergency use in the U.S. Researchers intend to conduct vaccine safety studies in pregnant women. For now, however, only data from animal studies are available, and these showed no harmful effects.
Pregnant women are included in [Phase 1c of the vaccine rollout] because the CDC considers pregnancy a high-risk condition. The CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine agree that pregnant women should have the opportunity to get vaccinated when possible.
“Women must weigh the risks and benefits of vaccination with their OB-GYN,” Dr. Holman said. “Factors to consider include the community spread of the virus where they live and their risk of exposure. There are no data regarding optimal timing during pregnancy to receive the vaccine. It’s important to discuss this with your provider.”
Pregnant women are no more likely to experience side effects after vaccination than other people, according to Dr. Holman. Remember, side effects, such as a sore arm, joint pain and mild fever, are normal, but notify your provider if you have any concerns.
Importantly, vaccination is no cause to abandon mask wearing and social distancing—we need to keep showing our love and respect for one another by following these and other pandemic best practices until enough people get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.