Why obstetrics groups are now recommending the COVID-19 vaccine to pregnant people

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Two obstetric and gynecology associations are now recommending pregnant women to get their COVID-19 vaccine. They say all signs point to vaccines being safe during and after pregnancy.

There are signs protection may even be passed mother down to infants through the umbilical cord or breastmilk. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology earlier this year found neither the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine posed a threat to pregnant, lactating, or reproductive-aged women.

Both vaccines were found to create enough of an immune response to fight off COVID-19. An added bonus, the study found immunity was passed from mothers to their babies through the placenta and breast milk.

“Pregnant women can’t afford to wait any longer for a recommendation like this,” said Dr. Brenna Hughes, vice chair of obstetrics and quality at Duke Health.

Hughes spent the last year caring for pregnant patients infected with COVID-19.

“I would really, really like to spend the next year being able to see the vast majority of pregnant patients vaccinated,” said Hughes.

A report from the CDC shows pregnant women infected with COVID-19 are four times more likely to require invasive ventilators. They are also twice as likely to die from the virus.

It’s why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine both say now is the time for pregnant women to get vaccinated.

They say we now have enough information to show vaccines are safe for pregnant people.

Hughes is a member of the SMFM COVID-19 Task Force and an expert in high-risk pregnancy.

“Given that there’s such low risk of the vaccine and high risk of the infection, we felt it was important to really recommend the vaccine,” said Hughes.

Studies are showing vaccines have the same side effects in pregnant and nonpregnant people.

One study from the New England Journal of Medicine published in June found there was nothing to signal vaccine safety issues for pregnant women.

“Most vaccines are known to be safe in pregnancy, this thankfully quite similar,” said Hughes.

Misinformation has plagued vaccination efforts. One myth is that vaccines may disrupt menstruation cycles or the ability to get pregnant. The CDC has reported there is no real evidence to support that.

“There’s really no biologic mechanism or thought as to why that would be true,” explained Hughes.

Hughes added there is no point during or after pregnancy that would be considered unsafe for vaccination.

“In order for the baby to be healthy, the baby needs a healthy mom and sick moms can’t do well for their babies,” said Hughes.

Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and pregnancy

Below are answers to frequently asked questions listed on the World Health Organizations website:

Click here for questions about COVID-19 and breastfeeding.

Can COVID-19 be passed from a woman to her unborn or newborn baby?

We still do not know if a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can pass the virus to her fetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery. To date, the active virus has not been found in samples of fluid around the baby in the womb or breastmilk.

Do pregnant women with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 need to give birth by cesarean section?

No. WHO advice is that cesarean sections should only be performed when medically justified.

The mode of birth should be individualized and based on a woman’s preferences alongside obstetric indications.

Can I touch and hold my newborn baby if I have COVID-19?

Yes. Close contact and early, exclusive breastfeeding helps a baby to thrive. You should be supported to

  • Breastfeed safely, with good respiratory hygiene;
  • Hold your newborn skin-to-skin, and
  • Share a room with your baby

You should wash your hands before and after touching your baby and keep all surfaces clean. Mothers with symptoms of COVID-19 are advised to wear a medical mask, during any contact with the baby.

Can pregnant women get vaccinated against COVID-19?

Yes, pregnant women can be vaccinated against COVID-19, in consultation with their healthcare provider.   

Limited data are currently available to assess the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy. However, based on what we know about the kinds of vaccines being used, there is no specific reason for concern. None of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized to date use live viruses, which are more likely to pose risks during pregnancy.    

Before getting vaccinated, pregnant women should discuss with their healthcare provider whether the benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks.  

The benefits may be greatest for pregnant women at the highest risk from COVID-19, such as frontline health workers, people living in areas of high transmission, and those with health conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes that add to their risk of severe disease.   

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