Vaccination rates in this country are being impacted by misinformation about COVID-19, contributing to unnecessary virus outbreaks. It’s also specifically impacting inoculation rates in America’s pregnant population; currently, just 23 percent of those expecting are vaccinated. While myths and misinformation are rampant, not all those hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy have bad intel about its safety, necessity, or efficacy. Many simply don’t want to take on any perceived risk—even when forgoing vaccination is potentially harmful.
In fact, so much hesitancy stems from fear that the vaccine may cause some unknown harm to the baby. Like Larissa Mattei, MD, an OB/GYN in Chicago who got the vaccine while pregnant, I did consider those things, too. She continues, “We have a lot of evidence about the effectiveness of the vaccine in pregnancy from thousands of women who have been pregnant and vaccinated for a while now,” she says.
Doctor Lucky Sekhon addressed several questions regarding pregnancy and COVID-19 vaccines in February of this year. Since then, she says that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published an interim analysis of long-term outcomes in pregnant women who received the vaccine. They found that “there was no increase in adverse pregnancy outcomes compared to the rates normally reported in the general pregnant population, pre-pandemic,” says Dr. Sekhon.
Furthermore, Dr. Sekhon reports that fertility clinics have conducted studies demonstrating no difference in implantation or pregnancy loss rates after frozen embryo transfer in vaccinated women who do not have COVID, those with antibodies post-infection, and those with antibodies post-vaccination. The COVID-19 vaccination did not have any effect on fertility.
Mattei and Sekhon also point out that while existing data indicates that vaccines are safe during pregnancy, intelligence from earlier this year indicates that COVID-19 may pose a grave risk to pregnant women. “There’s a higher risk of pregnant women needing hospitalization, mechanical ventilation, preterm delivery, and risk of death if they get COVID while pregnant,” Dr. Sekhon says.
COVID-19 complications are more likely to occur in pregnant women because pregnancy changes a lot about your body. The way you breathe changes, how you move your heart increases-there are a lot of physiological changes during pregnancy. On top of that, COVID’s demand on your system makes you more prone to getting sick quite a bit.” Furthermore, while breakthrough infections can happen after vaccination, they are still likely to be mild and will survive, whether you are pregnant or not, Dr. Sekhon says.
Pregnant women should get vaccinated not just because of the CDC. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommend that all pregnant people be vaccinated for COVID-19. “If you have a doctor that’s telling you otherwise, that person is not giving you the standard of care, and they’re not providing you with evidence-based recommendations,” says Dr. Mattei.
It is safe and recommended that vaccines be given to all pregnant women (and to those hoping to conceive). Here are the experiences of five women from across the U.S. who got vaccinated while pregnant.
1. My greatest concern was not vaccine side effects
As of April 26, I had received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in preparation for my due date on May 2. As a result of COVID-19, I was very frightened. I asked my doctor repeatedly, ‘Are you sure I should not be vaccinated?’In his statement, he told me that there wasn’t enough data to make such a decision. Then I decided to get the vaccine since studies showed that mothers who got the vaccine passed those antibodies on to their children.
My doctor gave me his blessing after I called him. Finally, he gave it, so I got the shot. I didn’t have any side effects, but honestly, it would be hard to tell if I did because I was so pregnant and uncomfortable. I also had pubic symphysis dysfunction, which is like the equivalent of your pubic bone breaking. So vaccine side effects were the least of my worries.
The second dose was supposed to be administered the day before I was scheduled to be induced, but in that case I listened to my doctor, who wanted me to wait until after the delivery. Doctors were concerned that they would not be able to determine whether my fever was due to the vaccine or a problem with the baby. The second shot was given a week after I gave birth.
Because I knew that some of my friends had received the vaccine while pregnant, I felt comfortable getting it. I have benefited from new vaccines, such as the Gardisil vaccine for HPV, in the past because my mother-in-law is a pediatrician. At 8 months pregnant, Lauren Steiner of Las Vegas, Nevada was vaccinated
2. ‘It was a decision I considered for some time’
Having studied obstetrics and gynecology, I was vaccinated a bit earlier. I was vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine in December of 2020. At that time, I was about 25 weeks pregnant.
Since there wasn’t any data on vaccinations in pregnancy at the time, it was a decision that I contemplated for quite some time. Moreover, COVID infection was only just beginning to be explored as a factor in pregnancy. I’d taken care of so many pregnant women who were sent to the ICU in the months before that vaccine became available to me. These people’s babies were delivered by emergency C-section in the ICU by me. A woman I knew was placed on a heart-lung machine. I’ve known people who were sent home from the hospital and then returned a few weeks later to be critically ill.
Therefore, I realized that it must be possible for COVID complications to occur during pregnancy. Yes, that’s what the data is telling us-pregnant women are more prone to need ICU-level care, have a higher chance of preterm delivery, and are usually dealing with a lot more issues overall. I felt that one of those options was clearly more high risk than the other when I weighed all of these factors, and the fact that I was literally exposed to COVID each day at work, with hypothetical side effects associated with the vaccine.
I received both doses of the vaccine on days when I worked 24-hour shifts and couldn’t afford to get sick. I didn’t experience any side effects. Tylenol was taken every eight hours as a precaution. After seeing all these horrifying things and being worried about COVID entering my family, I felt relieved emotionally. I was vaccinated at 6 months pregnant by Larissa Mattei, MD, Chicago, IL v
3. I did not discuss vaccines with the father of my child.
My first Moderna vaccination was in January 2021, when I was 6 months pregnant, and I work in a dental office.
When I asked my doctor for pros and cons, she basically said that I could get the vaccine and feel terrible for 12 to 24 hours, or I could get COVID and potentially pass it on to my baby. Basically, she said the side effects of the vaccine are not as dangerous as the long-term and short-term effects of COVID. Therefore, I weighed the risks accordingly.
Because it is not his body, I did not discuss it with him before I got the shot because he is not the father. There are some anti-vaccination sentiments where I live, but I wasn’t met with any resistance because everyone I allow to be in my life is vaccinated.
My second shot resulted in fatigue and soreness, as well as a headache, but that went away within 12 hours. The emotional relief that I felt stemmed from knowing that my baby would be healthy and happy, and that she might have antibodies. The decision I made was not regretted at all. The idea that I could lose my child or my own life to COVID-19-I can’t even imagine the risk is more terrifying than feeling like absolute dogshit for 12 hours. A 6 month pregnant woman from Gardner, Kansas, received her first vaccine
4. “I made the best decision I could have made”
At the time of the first Pfizer vaccine dose, I was about 8 months pregnant and got the second dose at the end of March (so I was about 8 months pregnant when I got the vaccine).
After my OB/GYN recommended the vaccination, I scheduled my appointment. I was a staunch advocate for getting it during pregnancy. She told me that getting COVID while pregnant was definitely riskier than the vaccine. I also made my immediate family get the vaccine the second they were eligible to protect them and to protect me while pregnant. They were so thrilled once I got the vaccine. I had very few side effects—a sore arm for sure and extra tiredness, but that was the extent of it.
The fact that I received it while pregnant is not something I would regret. In addition to relieving my anxiety, it may have provided a chance for my baby to inherit my antibodies as well. After getting the vaccine, I encouraged my friends who were pregnant to get it as well. Especially when pregnant, people need to be well informed. At 8 months pregnant, Juliette Caspi was vaccinated
5. ‘I have a child who I need to take care of already’
My Moderna vaccination was in March, and I had my baby on August 4.
I actually spoke with my doctor after the first dose, since I didn’t talk with anybody before I got the vaccine. I knew all along that I was going to get the vaccine once it was available to me, and when pregnant people were moved into a vaccination priority group, I knew there was a reason for it. So I got the shot. It wasn’t a hard decision—I believe in science, and my family is in the medical field and had all been vaccinated already. Weirdly, the pharmacist seemed a little judgmental about me getting the shot while pregnant, but other than that, I didn’t receive any pushback.
My arm and head were sore after the second dose. The moment I realized everything had gone smoothly, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. It’s natural to be concerned when you’re pregnant about whether a choice like this will negatively affect the baby, but for me, I also did it because I had another child who was already here and worried about my COVID complications.
The decision was tough, but I followed the science and the facts. Obviously, we don’t know anything super long-term yet, but I think when you weigh it against the risk for pregnant women, it’s definitely worth getting. — Jamie Han, Chicago, IL: Vaccinated at 5 months pregnant
We have edited the interviews to make them longer and clearer.
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