Editor's note: Produced in conjunction with the Latino Communities Reporting Lab. A free Spanish translation is available at Myrecordjournal.com/latino-news.
Widespread COVID-19 vaccine trials among pregnant women are still ongoing, but there have been no specific safety concerns reported among pregnant women who have been vaccinated.
And catching the virus while pregnant might exceed any risk of getting the vaccine, health experts said.
“We know that Covid-19 is riskier to women who are pregnant than those who aren’t, including potentially life-threatening disease to both the mother and the baby. This is well-established,” Dr. Andrew Metzger said in an email. Metzger practices obstetrics and gynecology at MidState Medical Center in Meriden.
Although pregnant women were not part of the initial clinical trials, doctors are getting more and more evidence that the mRNA vaccines are safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women, Metzger said. He points to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology on March 25, which looked at 131 women. The study found the vaccines to be safe, while generating a strong immune response, protecting both mother and baby. Another trial is underway by Pfizer with 4,000 pregnant women and multiple independent studies are underway throughout the country.
Thousands of pregnant women have gotten the vaccine without any observed concerns other than the known possible side effects applicable to anyone receiving the shot. Although this is observational data and not a controlled clinical trial, it is incredibly encouraging nonetheless, Metzger said.
“Systems are in place to continue to monitor vaccine safety, and so far, they have not identified any specific safety concerns for pregnant people,” according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people are underway or planned.”
Prior to the recent pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, health experts said the three vaccines by Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and J&J had shown no adverse effects on pregnant women. The recent pause follows reports of six women of child-bearing age developing serious blood clots one to 13 days after receiving the J&J vaccine. Investigators want to establish if there was a cause and effect or whether the women had other clotting risk factors such as use of birth control drugs, or smoking. More than seven million people have received the J&J vaccine.
“It’s hard to say right now because there was so few, ” said Dr. Ann Palmer, of the infectious disease division of Hartford HealthCare, MidState Medical Center’s parent company. “Is it related to the vaccine, or happened by chance? We’re going to halt the usage until we have more information.”
As with others who receive the J&J vaccine, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are asked to watch and report any symptoms, such as severe headache, shortness of breath, leg pain or stroke symptoms up to three weeks after receiving the shot, Palmer said.
The CDC recommends that all women who are pregnant or plan on getting pregnant discuss vaccination with their doctor or midwife, but may be vaccinated without a doctor’s approval.
The vaccines are also showing to be safe in breastfeeding mothers “because there is no live virus, there shouldn’t be complications, and there are antibodies in breast milk,” Palmer said.
The CDC also warns that although the overall risk of severe illness is low, pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 when compared to non-pregnant people.
“Severe illness includes illness that results in intensive care admission, mechanical ventilation, or death,” according to the CDC. “Additionally, pregnant people with COVID-19 might be at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as pre-term birth, compared with pregnant women without COVID-19.”
Pregnant women who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are encouraged to enroll in v-safe, the CDC’s smartphone-based tool that provides personalized health check-ins after vaccination. A v-safe pregnancy registry has been established to gather information on the health of pregnant people who have received a vaccine. For more information go to www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafe
“In short, there does not appear to be any increased risk to mother or fetus with receiving the mRNA vaccines,” Metzger said, “and there is a very well-established risk to both mother and baby should they contract Covid-19, including a higher risk of death.”