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Despite increasing evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are not only safe but critical for patients who are pregnant, only 32% of pregnant people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated before or during their pregnancy.
Initial vaccine clinical trials did not include people who were pregnant or breastfeeding, so early hesitancy was understandably common. But numerous studies have since shown that this population—and their babies—benefit significantly from each of the three COVID-19 vaccines: Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.
A lot of the data we have comes directly from patients. The V-safe COVID-19 Vaccine Pregnancy Registry collects detailed information from people who were vaccinated within 30 days of their last menstrual cycle or during pregnancy. Through personalized health check-ins, patients share vaccine side effects they experience, as well as their medical records, to provide a comprehensive view of their health during and after pregnancy.
With so much misinformation available, it’s important for patients who are pregnant—or planning to become pregnant—to know three key findings from several months of research.
1. Getting vaccinated reduces the risk of COVID-19 complications and death for pregnant patients.
Around 97% of pregnant patients hospitalized for COVID-19 have not been vaccinated. Protect yourself and your newborn against COVID-19 by getting vaccinated as soon as possible.
Compared to non-pregnant women with COVID-19, infected pregnant patients have:
- More than a two-fold increased risk of requiring ICU admission, invasive ventilation, and an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which helps your heart and lungs rest as your body fights the virus
- A 70% increased risk of death—August 2021 had the highest number of COVID-19 related deaths in pregnant people in one month
Compared to pregnant women without COVID-19, infected pregnant patients have an increased risk for:
- Coagulopathy: excessive bleeding if blood loses its ability to clot
- Preeclampsia: sudden high blood pressure that can lead to organ damage
- Preterm birth: can result in death, disability, and breathing, feeding, vision, and hearing problems
- Stillbirth: pregnancy loss
From hormonal to physical changes, pregnancy brings its own challenges. Getting the vaccine can protect you and your newborn from additional serious, avoidable complications.
A word about blood clot risks.
Some patients have expressed concerns about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s risk of a rare clotting condition called thrombosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paused the vaccine earlier this year after fewer than 30 cases were reported out of nearly 9 million doses. Distribution resumed shortly after, as the risk is very low compared to the benefits of the vaccine.
Getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still safe, and the risk of complications is low. We recommend women contact their doctors if they have symptoms such as limb swelling, blurred vision, headaches, or chest pain.
2. You can pass protective antibodies to your baby by getting vaccinated while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Multiple studies show that vaccinated pregnant patients pass virus protection to their babies. A recent study further confirmed this transfer by distinguishing between antibodies (blood proteins that help the immune system fight viruses) that developed in newborns naturally and antibodies that were triggered by the mother’s vaccination. All of the babies had antibodies that developed in response to the vaccine and were therefore protective against the virus.
If you are currently breastfeeding and did not receive the vaccine while pregnant, it is safe to get vaccinated now. Protective antibodies have been shown to transfer to infants through breast milk—especially for mothers who breastfeed past 23 months.
Vaccination is recommended even after someone has already had COVID-19. In fact, the immune response after vaccination is even stronger than after having the infection.
3. The COVID-19 vaccine does not increase risk of miscarriage.
A common misconception that has lingered for nearly a year is that the COVID-19 vaccine increases a woman’s risk of miscarriage. This is simply not true and has been dispelled many times.
The myth is based on a false report about similarities between a spike protein in the vaccine and a natural protein in the body called syncytin-1, which helps the placenta fully form and nourish a growing fetus. The report claimed that because the vaccine trains the body to fight the spike protein in COVID-19, it would also train the body to fight syncytin-1 and lead to miscarriage.
There is also no evidence that the vaccine causes infertility in men or women. However, early research is showing that the COVID-19 virus may cause infertility in men, which is all the more reason for male partners to get vaccinated.
Nearly all pregnant patients hospitalized for #COVID19 have not been vaccinated. Learn why the #COVID19Vaccine is not only safe during #pregnancy but also beneficial for babies: https://bit.ly/3moVfBu.Click to Tweet
Clarifying confusion about boosters and breakthroughs.While more than 30% of people in the U.S. have yet to receive their first vaccine, others are now eligible for a third dose. COVID-19 booster shots are recommended for all patients who received the full Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and are:
- Age 65 or older
- Age 18 or older with certain medical conditions including pregnancy or living and working in high-risk settings, such as education, health care, public transit, and grocery stores
At MedStar Health, we strongly encourage all eligible patients—including pregnant patients—to receive a booster shot.
No vaccine is 100% effective at preventing any illness. “Breakthrough” infections can occur in people who have been vaccinated because viruses mutate as they spread. But getting vaccinated significantly lowers your risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms if you do become infected.
After getting vaccinated, decrease your chances of getting and spreading the virus by continuing to practice good hand washing, as well as social distancing and masking.
Your well-being is our top priority, and getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect your and your baby’s long-term health.