In late September, a small study confirmed that pregnant women who get the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines pass protective antibodies on to their unborn child. That’s welcome news and strengthens the argument that pregnant women should get the vaccine to protect both themselves and their baby during the pregnancy. Pregnant women are at a higher risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, a lot of misinformation has been spread through social media about COVID-19, as well as the vaccine and its impact on pregnancy. Since it was made available in December, many pregnant women have received the vaccine and they have done well. We have not seen evidence of adverse vaccine issues with women who were pregnant when they got the shot. Pregnant women are likely to have the same response a non-pregnant women after receiving the vaccine. Patients often express fears of possible vaccine complications. I remind them of the risks we know about COVID infection. The risks of infection are much more significant than risks of vaccination.
In late September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its strongest recommendation for pregnant women, those who were recently pregnant or those who are considering pregnancy to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Multiple studies show that there is no evidence of increased risk of miscarriage, as the miscarriage rates are the same in vaccinated and unvaccinated women. There’s also been no evidence of fetal issues or maternal issues as a result of the vaccination.
On the other hand, we have seen very sick pregnant women – some who have gone into ICU, some of them delivering and losing their babies, some of them losing their lives – most of them in the last few months following the summer surge with the delta variant. Pregnant women have a greater risk of going to the ICU, of needing intubation, needing ECMO (an advanced treatment used to oxygenate the blood) and, ultimately, they’re at greater risk of dying if they have COVID.
What I tell my patients is, I don’t want to deliver a baby that you’re never going to see … in an ICU setting. We know the outcomes are so much worse for pregnant women who contract COVID. Many young expectant women also have children at home. When they get vaccinated, and their partners get vaccinated, it provides protection to other people they have in their homes and other loved ones who may be more vulnerable.
We recommend several vaccines for women during the third trimester of pregnancy, like flu and whooping cough, mainly because we know the antibodies transfer and we can provide some immunity to infants. These small studies are now showing that’s the case with the COVID-19 vaccine. But it is critically important for pregnant women to get this particular vaccine now at whatever stage they are in their pregnancy.
We are hopeful that the current surge has plateaued here and nationwide, but that doesn’t totally remove the risk of severe illness or death for pregnant women, or for others at risk in our community. If we had been more diligent when the vaccines were made available, we may have avoided the most recent surge of COVID-19. A higher rate of vaccination will help us to prevent future variants and surges like the one we have had with the delta variant.