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COVID-19 Vaccination During Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know

No matter the circumstances, adding to your family can bring up lots of questions and considerations. If you’re having a baby during the coronavirus pandemic, you may have some concerns about potential health risks to you and your baby if you get infected or want to get vaccinated. In this Flo article, we cover everything you need to know about COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy, so read on to learn more! 

First off, what’s the impact of COVID-19 on pregnant people? There isn’t any evidence that shows that being pregnant increases the risk of catching COVID-19. But if a pregnant person gets COVID-19, they have a higher risk of needing hospitalization and intensive care.

A study published in April 2021 in the BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth journal looked into the risk of severe illness between pregnant and non-pregnant people. Researchers found that compared to non-pregnant women, pregnant people had much higher rates of needing to go to the hospital due to their symptoms (60.5 percent vs. 17 percent).

If you’re pregnant and get COVID-19 (especially if you get severely ill), there’s also a greater risk of preterm birth and other pregnancy complications, according to a January 2021 study conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Although it’s rare, it’s possible for a pregnant person to transfer COVID-19 to their baby.

As for people who are breastfeeding, it’s thought that their risk of serious disease is the same as for those who aren’t pregnant.

Now that we know the potential risks to pregnant people and babies when it comes to infection, let’s see what the experts have to say about COVID-19 vaccination while pregnant.

Chances are you know that everything you put into your body during pregnancy goes to your baby too. So you may have some questions about whether or not COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy is safe for both of you.

It may help to know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine all agree that COVID-19 vaccines should be offered to pregnant people.

The European Board and College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (EBCOG) believe that vaccination against COVID-19 during pregnancy should be offered to any pregnant person who wants it.

Because the risks linked to COVID-19 infection are higher later in pregnancy, many pregnant people choose to get vaccinated before their third trimester. Some may want to wait until after the first 12 weeks (which are the most important for the baby’s development) but before week 28 of pregnancy to get vaccinated. This is a personal choice, and the vaccine should work the same no matter how far along your pregnancy is.

While the data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy is still limited, experts believe it shouldn’t pose health risks, and recent studies have shown positive results. 

Additionally, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) haven’t found any safety concerns for vaccinated pregnant people or their babies. Furthermore, there haven’t been any miscarriages, stillbirths, or preterm births linked to the vaccines. Also, there isn’t any evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause fertility issues, so you don’t need to be concerned if you plan to get pregnant later on. In short, getting vaccinated has fewer risks than getting COVID-19, especially for pregnant people. But getting vaccinated is everyone’s personal choice, and you get to decide if it’s the right move for you during pregnancy.

Numerous COVID-19 vaccines have been developed worldwide, falling into four different categories: 

  • Whole virus: exposes the body to a weakened or dead form of the COVID-19 virus to build immunity.
  • Protein subunit: uses specific parts of the COVID-19 virus to trigger the immune system.
  • Viral vector: gives the body instructions to fight COVID-19 using a harmless virus.
  • Nucleic acid (RNA or DNA): tells the body how to fight COVID-19 using genes.

A study conducted in April 2021 with 35,691 pregnant women aged 16–54 looked into the safety of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy and didn’t find any issues with the mRNA vaccines.

There were also studies conducted on animals who received COVID-19 vaccines before or during pregnancy that didn’t find any safety issues for the pregnant animals or their babies.

Because the vaccines don’t contain live viruses (at least the ones authorized for use in the United States and European Union), they can’t give you or your baby COVID-19.

In fact, COVID-19 vaccination while pregnant may even help protect babies from getting COVID-19 after they’re born. Recent reports have shown that pregnant people (mostly in the third trimester) who received mRNA vaccines passed the antibodies down to their babies, so they both built immunity.

If you’re pregnant and thinking about getting vaccinated, experts recommend discussing it with your health care provider. 

You may wonder about the timing of your vaccine once you start breastfeeding. What if you get the first dose of vaccine while you’re still pregnant and then the second one after you deliver?

You might find it helpful to know that according to experts, based on how vaccines work in the body, there shouldn’t be any risk to you or your baby in this case. Doctors from Johns Hopkins have stated that if you get vaccinated, there’s no need to stop breastfeeding.

A study conducted in March 2021 with 131 participants (84 pregnant, 31 lactating, and 16 non-pregnant women) confirmed that vaccination doesn’t pose a health risk to the mother or the baby (both while pregnant and while breastfeeding). It also found that lactating parents who receive the mRNA vaccines pass antibodies down to their babies through their breast milk, which can help protect the baby.

It takes around two weeks for the body to build immunity after receiving the full dosage of the vaccine. As this is such a new topic, researchers are still learning how long COVID-19 vaccine protection lasts. 

Getting vaccinated will allow your body to build immunity while reducing your risk of getting very sick with COVID-19 and having any corona-related pregnancy complications. The World Health Organization doesn’t believe there are any risks for pregnant people that outweigh the benefits of getting vaccinated. 

It’s possible to feel some side effects after COVID-19 vaccination, including: 

  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Pain or tenderness in the arm where you got the shot

These are normal signals that your body is building immunity to the virus, and they should go away within a few days.

There is one more side effect, extremely rare but worth mentioning: blood clots following vaccination. While authorities believe that benefits outweigh possible harm, it’s up to you to decide if you’re okay with the risks.

And finally, it’s important to note that it’s not possible to catch COVID-19 from the vaccine. 

Getting the COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy is the same as for people who aren’t pregnant (via a shot in the arm administered in one or two doses). 

Different vaccines are approved and available depending on where you live.

  • In the U.S., there are three different vaccines that currently have an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson).
  • In the EU, the AstraZeneca vaccine has also been approved and is being administered in addition to the three previously mentioned, while two others are undergoing development. 
  • In Australia, Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have been approved.
  • In the U.K., Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, and one-dose Janssen vaccines have been approved.  
  • In China, there are six different vaccines that have been approved, some of which have also been approved in other countries around the world.

Experts recommend the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines for pregnant people if available because data hasn’t shown any safety concerns for pregnant people with these vaccines. You can ask which vaccines are offered at your doctor’s office or vaccination location.

Leading up to your vaccination, it’s not recommended to avoid, stop, or delay medications for any other health conditions, but be sure to always check your medication with your health care provider if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

The CDC also doesn’t recommend taking over-the-counter medicine or pain or allergy medication before you get vaccinated to try to prevent side effects — researchers don’t know what impact they have on the vaccine’s effectiveness. Other than that, there’s nothing special that you need to do to prepare.

The Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines need two shots to build immunity, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is only one shot. It’s now advised that the second shot is the same vaccine as the first one you got.

But sometimes it’s necessary to take doses from different vaccines, like if the first dose of a specific vaccine prompts a severe allergic reaction, or if there is a shortage of the same vaccine locally. Some studies, including research at the University of Oxford in June, 2021, have found that mixing vaccines might even boost the immune response, but the safety and effectiveness of mixing different vaccines are still being explored.

Usually, a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine is recommended three weeks (21 days) after the first one; the Moderna vaccine’s second dose is recommended four weeks (28 days) later; and the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is given between 8–12 weeks (56–84 days) afterwards. But local regulations might make the timeline different where you are, so it’s a good idea to check.

It takes two weeks after the final shot to get the full effectiveness of the vaccine. This is the point when you’re considered fully vaccinated.

After getting vaccinated, you might be able to resume some normal activities that you weren’t able to do during the pandemic, like meeting friends and family in larger groups. Check the current guidelines in your home region with respect to COVID-19 and vaccination and the requirements of your destination if you’re going to travel.

Once you’re fully vaccinated in the U.S., you no longer need to wear a mask or socially distance, except where required by law, like on public transportation, in health care settings, or if requested by a business. But this may be changing due to surges.

If you’re fully vaccinated and have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, you don’t need to quarantine or get tested unless you show symptoms, except if you live or work in a communal setting, in which case you should get tested regardless of whether you have symptoms.

But it’s not yet known if it’s possible to spread COVID-19 even after being vaccinated.

That’s why the EU, U.K., and Australian governments require that you still practice social distancing and good hand hygiene after getting the vaccine. In the U.K. and EU, you still need to wear a face mask and avoid indoor crowds.  

Experts say that the COVID-19 vaccines are our best hope of ending this pandemic. Although data on the impact of covid vaccination while pregnant or breastfeeding is still limited, so far there isn’t any evidence to suggest it poses any health risks, and, in fact, recent studies have confirmed this.

Nevertheless, it’s important to consult a health care provider about the risks of acquiring COVID-19 infection in pregnancy and the existing evidence on the benefits and potential side effects of vaccines.

It’s important to remember that information about COVID-19 can change rapidly. Researchers are currently learning more about COVID-19 vaccine safety during pregnancy from human studies.

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