This information was accurate at the time of publication. Due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, some information may have changed since the original publication date.
Erin Clark, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and chief of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at U of U Health, and Torri Metz, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, a maternal-fetal medicine subspecialist, and vice chair of Research of Obstetrics and Gynecology at U of U Health, provide information surrounding pregnancy, COVID-19, and vaccines.
COVID-19 increases the risk for severe illness and adverse birth outcomes
Growing research has found:
- Pregnant people with COVID-19 are twice as likely to be admitted to the hospital or intensive care unit and require ventilation support compared to non-pregnant people infected with the virus.
- Pregnant people have a 70% increase for death. Research conducted by U of U Health found similar findings. Pregnant people with severe COVID-19 are at higher risk for pregnancy complications like pre-term birth, cesarean delivery, and high blood pressure in pregnancy.
- Data from the CDC demonstrates an increased risk of stillbirth in pregnant people who have COVID-19.
- People are more vulnerable to infections and viruses due to changes to their immune systems during pregnancy. They tend to get sicker than people who are not pregnant.
COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant people
Although the first COVID-19 vaccine trials did not include pregnant people, evidence has since supported and recommended vaccination during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Data shows the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination. Worldwide, millions of pregnant people have been vaccinated.
The CDC data have shown there are no safety concerns for pregnant people who receive a mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Several studies support the fact that individuals are not at increased risk of negative pregnancy outcomes, including pre-term birth. Similar to non-pregnant individuals, COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of infection in pregnant individuals. Recent data from Scotland also demonstrate that vaccination during pregnancy reduces the risk of hospitalization, being admitted to the intensive care unit, or dying compared with those who were not vaccinated.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine recommend COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant and breastfeeding individuals.
COVID-19 vaccines DO NOT cross the placenta
When a COVID-19 vaccine is administered, it works in the muscle where the vaccine is given—It does not cross to the baby directly. The body then recognizes the vaccine and generates a response in the form of antibodies. These antibodies then cross the placenta via the bloodstream to the baby or enter the breast and are passed on to baby through breastmilk.
This process is not unique to COVID-19 vaccines. Influenza and pertussis (whooping cough) are recommended vaccines during pregnancy. Vaccination during pregnancy has been found to be very effective for protecting newborns from these diseases.
COVID-19 antibodies are passed from mother to baby
Antibodies passed from mother to baby are thought to protect the baby against COVID-19. According to a published study, COVID-19 antibodies were found in cord blood from both individuals infected with the virus during pregnancy and those who were vaccinated during pregnancy. The study also found babies whose mothers received a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy had higher antibody levels than babies whose mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy. Another study demonstrated that vaccines in any trimester of pregnancy allowed for transfer of antibody to the fetus across the placenta, so the best time to be vaccinated is now.
Antibodies also cross to the baby through breastmilk. Vaccination is recommended in people who are breastfeeding.
COVID-19 vaccines DO NOT cause infertility
There are no data to date that suggests that COVID-19 vaccines negatively affect fertility or a woman's ability to conceive after getting vaccinated. According to much scientific data and several studies, vaccines do not pose a risk for people who are trying to get pregnant. To date, no vaccine is known to cause fertility issues.
The CDC recommends women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible.
COVID-19 vaccines may cause minor changes to the menstrual cycle
COVID-19 vaccines may cause a slight disruption to the menstrual cycles. According to a published study, some women reported starting their menstrual cycle a day late, but this change did not persist in subsequent cycles. There was no change in the length of the menstrual cycle (number of days of bleeding) in women who were vaccinated compared to those who were not. The effect was transient and menstrual cycles returned to normal within one to two months. There is no evidence that this change is harmful. The National Institutes of Health is looking at other factors, such as whether periods were heavier or more painful after vaccination.
COVID-19 vaccines DO NOT make pregnant people sick
Pregnant people have not reported different side effects from non-pregnant individuals after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. According to the CDC, side effects from vaccination are normal signs that a person's body is building protection and should go away within a few days.
It's not always easy to tell fact from fiction. Despite what some online articles and social media suggest, claims about COVID-19 and vaccines are not always true. It's important to talk to your health care provider and get valid information from trusted resources.