Women who are pregnant are currently one of the lowest populations protected from COVID-19. Only 20-25% of pregnant women are currently vaccinated, far less than the rest of the adult population. Here are some frequently asked questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and why all major health organizations are strongly encouraging pregnant women to get immunized.
One of the most important messages pregnant women need to understand is that COVID-19 infections have been shown to cause more severe illness in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women, and the vaccines have been shown to decrease that risk of severe infection.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe during pregnancy?
Yes. Millions of pregnant women have now received the vaccine worldwide, and there is no evidence the vaccine increases the risk to the pregnancy, including no increased risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth defects. The vaccine is recommended for women who are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, breastfeeding, or may become pregnant in the future. There is no reason to delay getting the vaccine until after your baby is born.
How does the vaccine work?
The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) stimulate cells in your body to produce a harmless piece of spike protein common to the COVID-19 virus. Your body then triggers the production of antibodies specific to this protein and activates other immune cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection. If you then are exposed to the actual COVID-19 virus, your body will attack the spike protein with the antibodies already in your system and thereby be better able to fight the virus and lessen the risk of a severe infection.
There are also important things to know about what the vaccine does not do. First, the vaccine never crosses the placenta and remains in your body for only a short period of time. Second, the mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell and cannot change or influence your genes. Finally, none of the COVID-19 vaccines contain the live virus, and therefore the vaccine itself cannot cause an infection.
But isn’t it better for me just to wait until after the pregnancy to get vaccinated, just to be safe?
Understanding pregnant women who are not vaccinated are more likely to experience a severe infection and knowing infection can occur at any point in the pregnancy, there is now growing evidence that pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to have a premature birth, often because it is uncertain if the mother will survive her infection.
Additionally, there is evidence that a breastfeeding mother who is vaccinated will pass on antibodies to her baby that can protect the baby against COVID-19.
For these reasons, the best thing you can do for both yourself and your baby is to get vaccinated as soon as possible. If you have further questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, we encourage you to talk to your OB/GYN provider or speak with a MercyOne provider.
About the author
Neil Mandsager, MD, is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at MercyOne Perinatal Center. Mandsager has been providing care since 1993. He is currently board-certified in obstetrics-gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine.
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This article is part of a series of sponsored articles by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center