Sep 9, 2021

You are pregnant and trying to do the right thing to keep yourself healthy and provide a safe place for your growing pregnancy. Is it time to get a COVID vaccine?

I have tragic memory of being part of a team that cared for a wonderful young woman who was pregnant and got influenza. Influenza isn't usually lethal to healthy young people, but it's dangerous in pregnancy. We knew this young woman. She worked in our unit, and she and her baby died of influenza. This was before my hospital required all employees to be vaccinated for the flu each year. Now we have over a decade of information about the influenza vaccine in pregnancy and safety, and we encourage every one of our patients to get the flu vaccine. It saves lives.

Now we have this other virus, COVID-19. COVID isn't new to us as humans. We've seen several other COVID viruses that were quite deadly in the past 20 years, but they didn't go that far and we see coronaviruses, the COVID family, make up some of the virus that caused the common cold. But COVID-19 is very contagious and causes severe illnesses and death all too frequently and lingering illnesses in many of those who weren't even really sick.

So when we first offered the COVID-19 vaccine, we had little information about COVID vaccine in pregnancy, but we had almost nine months of data on the COVID-19 virus infection and how it affected pregnant women. Here at the University of Utah, Dr. Torri Metz, a specialist in high-risk pregnancy, helped lead a national team to collect information about pregnant women who were infected with COVID-19. We talked with her, and she said it was sobering to see that young, healthy women who were pregnant had much more serious courses of the infection than women of the same age who weren't pregnant. They were more likely to get hospitalized, they were more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit, they were more likely to be put on a ventilator, and if their oxygen levels became too low, they were more likely to lose their babies and sometimes they lost their lives.

But it took us another nine months to collect information about women who were pregnant and were vaccinated and compare outcomes to women who were pregnant and were not vaccinated. And the news is good and compelling about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy.

So what is true? One, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines had no adverse effects on fertility, pregnancy, and offspring in lab animals. Two, in 35,000 women who were pregnant and received the COVID-19 vaccine, headache, muscle aches, chills, and fever were less frequent in pregnant women than in non-pregnant patients. Three, injection site pain, where you got the shot, was more frequent in pregnant women, but it wasn't really all that bad. Four, the safety data following 4,000 pregnancies in women who were vaccinated showed no higher rates of miscarriage, no higher rates of preterm birth, no higher rate of newborn birth defects, or deaths compared to what we normally experience in pregnancy. I'm going to say that again. There were no higher rates of miscarriage, preterm births, or birth defects in women who were vaccinated compared to women who aren't vaccinated. Number five, women who are infected with COVID-19 have an increased risk of harmful abnormalities in the placenta. Women who are vaccinated don't have these harmful changes. Six, women who are vaccinated are five times less likely to get COVID-19 compared to pregnant women who are not vaccinated, one-fifth the rate of getting COVID compared to non-vaccinated pregnant women. Seven, women who are vaccinated give good antibodies to COVID-19 to their newborn babies. So there are seven true things.

What's not true? One, the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility. It doesn't. Two, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have DNA in them and will alter the DNA of the fetus. Nope. These vaccines have mRNA in them, and these molecules are very short-lived and act mostly in the muscle around the shot. They don't change the DNA of the fetus or the mom. Three, the COVID vaccine has a microchip in it to track you. Really? I don't know where that ever came from, but it's one of the silliest of the vaccine myths.

Women who are pregnant are at high risk if they become infected with COVID-19. Pregnancy may lower women's immune responses, but the vaccine is still very protective against women developing complications from COVID-19.

With the information about the risks of COVID-19 infection to the pregnant mother and now the efficacy data from the vaccine outcome data collection and the safety information from more than thousands of women who were vaccinated while pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine have strongly recommended that women who are considering pregnancy, trying to get pregnant, who are pregnant, or who are breastfeeding get vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.

I think back to the day when I saw a young woman die of influenza and how much the flu vaccine is part of our counseling to pregnant women during flu season. So if it's flu season and you're pregnant or breastfeeding, don't forget to get your flu vaccine. And no matter what season it is, if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, please talk to your clinician and get vaccinated against COVID-19. And because no vaccine is perfect, please wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth when you're indoors in groups of people and practice social distancing if you're with people who aren't vaccinated.

And thanks for doing what you can to protect yourself, your baby, and those around you. And thanks for joining us on The Scope.

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