COVID-19 Rising in Pregnant People; CDC Urges Vaccination

newborn baby

New evidence suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued its strongest recommendation yet urging pregnant women to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC guidance comes as more than 125,000 cases of COVID-19 in pregnant women have been reported, with 22,000 hospitalized. According to the agency, 161 pregnant women have died of COVID-19, with 22 deaths in August alone. Despite this, less than a third of pregnant women have been vaccinated, the CDC reported.

Deborah Goldfrank, Head of General Gynecology at MSK, explains what to know about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines for people who are pregnant, breast-feeding or planning to have children.

How do doctors know the vaccines are safe for pregnant women?

There is strong evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective for pregnant women. A recent study showed no increased risk for miscarriage for people who received the mRNA vaccine during the first 20 weeks of gestation.

A study in June 2021 in the New England Journal of Medicine found no safety concerns among more than 35,000 pregnant people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Comirnaty®) or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

As for the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine, ACOG issued a statement emphasizing that “all eligible persons, including pregnant and lactating individuals, receive a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine series.” However, people should be aware of the very rare risk of a blood clotting disorder associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and that the other FDA-authorized vaccines are available.

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How is COVID-19 more dangerous for people who are pregnant?

According to the CDC, people who are pregnant and contract COVID-19 are at higher risk of serious complications, including being admitted to the ICU, needing a breathing tube, and even death. They may also be at higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as premature birth.

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Do the vaccines protect both pregnant women and their babies?

Emerging research shows pregnant women who are vaccinated not only protect themselves but also their babies.

Pregnant women who received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines had COVID-19 antibodies in their umbilical cord blood and breast milk, according to the Journal of Obstetrics and GynecologySimilar findings have been reported in other medical publications, too. While these studies are preliminary, they offer encouraging evidence that some of a mother’s immunity can be passed along to the baby before and after they are born. 

This research also builds on a previous study that found pregnant women who have recovered from COVID-19 can pass along their immunity. The more recent study found more antibodies present in women who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 than in women who had recovered from COVID-19.

In addition, this research found the vaccine is equally effective for women who are pregnant compared to those who are not. Antibody levels following vaccination were the same in pregnant and lactating women compared to those who weren’t pregnant, the study says.

This study is currently under peer review.

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Can COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?

Despite alarming rumors spreading on social media, there is no data suggesting that COVID-19 vaccination impacts fertility. The approved COVID-19 vaccines do not contain live virus. They do not interact with or alter your DNA. According to fertility specialists, there is no evidence that vaccines increase the risk of infertility, first or second trimester miscarriages, stillbirth, or any birth defects.

Furthermore, because pregnant people are at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19, vaccination is important protection for people who are trying to get pregnant.

September 30, 2021

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