By Angela Nishio, MD, OB-GYN

Medical Director, Women’s Health Services

Providence Saint John’s Health Center

Throughout the pandemic, I have been treating pregnant patients at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. Before the vaccines, there were a lot of unknowns and people were worried. But today, I recommend the COVID-19 vaccines to my pregnant patients. I tell them it is part of taking good care of themselves and their babies.

When I meet a patient who is hesitant to get vaccinated while pregnant, I start by telling them how the vaccines were studied and tested, and how the technology used in the vaccines has been around for more than 20 years. The biggest myth is that people think these vaccines are new and unstudied. So, we talk about how the vaccines are safe, and how getting COVID-19 during pregnancy could be so much worse.

I do have one patient who got seriously ill while pregnant and now regrets not getting vaccinated. Instead of getting what we know is a safe vaccination, she ultimately had to have seven or eight different medications to treat her serious COVID illness while pregnant. At my hospital, we also have had unvaccinated pregnant women die from COVID-19. It is heartbreaking. I don’t want anyone to go through that.

To help pregnant people or people seeking to become pregnant from across California understand the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, I’m sharing my answers to these frequently asked questions about pregnancy and the vaccines I have heard from members of our community. I hope this FAQ helps make your vaccination decision easier.

Q. If I am pregnant, is it safe for me to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

A.  Pregnant and lactating people may receive any of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use in the U.S. These vaccines use a small piece of the virus that can’t cause infection but trigger an immune response in the body – causing the body to produce protective antibodies. All three vaccines are safe and effective for people who are pregnant, seeking to become pregnant or breastfeeding.

Q. Were the vaccines studied in pregnant people?

A. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has followed pregnant women who received the COVID vaccine and as of Oct. 18, 2021, more than 168,000 women have been tracked. Based on this information and what is known about how these vaccines work and their ingredients, researchers found no safety concerns for pregnant people receiving the COVID-19 vaccines.

Q. Why should I get vaccinated while I’m pregnant?

A. Pregnant people are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 than people who are not pregnant. I have seen this in my own patients. Severe illness means that a person with COVID-19 may need hospitalization, intensive care, a ventilator or other special equipment to help them breathe. According to the CDC, symptomatic pregnant people have more than a two-fold increased risk of requiring ICU admission and ventilation, and a 70% increased risk of death. Additionally, premature infants born to people with COVID-19 are also at increased risk for admission to the Neonatal ICU (NICU).

Getting vaccinated is the best way to remain safe. The vaccines do a great job of preventing and lessening the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

Q. What if I don’t get vaccinated and contract COVID-19 during my pregnancy?

A. Pregnant people with COVID-19 are at higher risk for pregnancy complications, such as high blood pressure, bleeding disorders, death and stillbirth. Don’t take the chance. The vaccine is safe and effective. Talk to your doctor and schedule an appointment to get vaccinated for the safety of you and your baby.

Q. Will getting the COVID-19 vaccine help my baby?

A. The COVID-19 vaccine may provide your baby some protection from COVID-19. Recent studies show that vaccinated pregnant people pass antibodies to their developing baby in the womb, so the baby is born with some protection from day one. I tell my vaccinated pregnant patients they are protecting their babies in the placenta now, and via their breastmilk later.

Q. What about my partner? Should they also get vaccinated?

A. COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for everyone who is eligible, including pregnant people, those who are planning to become pregnant and their partners. Expectant parents should also encourage family members or friends who plan to visit their newborn baby to get vaccinated now.

Q. I am not yet pregnant, but I am planning to become pregnant. Will the vaccine affect my fertility or my partner’s?

A. There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause any loss of fertility. Many people have become pregnant after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, including some who got vaccinated during the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.

Q. I am breastfeeding my baby. Should I wait to get vaccinated?

A. The COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people 12 years and older, including people who are breastfeeding. Recent reports have shown that breastfeeding people who have received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which could help protect their babies.

Q. Are there any other concerns for pregnant people regarding the COVID-19 vaccines?

A. As with anyone who receives the COVID-19 vaccines, pregnant people may experience mild side effects, such as body aches, chills and tiredness. These side effects are normal and a sign that your body is building immunity.

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