Opinion: Addressing COVID-19 vaccine safety in women of child-bearing age

4 mins read

Susan Kearing, DO, FACOG

It has been one long year since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over this time, we have seen significant morbidity and mortality related to this virus, with the older population being most affected. Now that several vaccines have been rolled out and many older adults are completely vaccinated, we are seeing a spike in the number of cases in the younger population, particularly 20-30 year olds.

Most concerning for me and my colleagues at Franklin Health Women’s Care is the increased risk of complications associated with COVID-19 in pregnancy. Studies show that pregnant women with COVID-19 are at higher risk for severe illness and death. COVID-infected pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized and require care in an intensive care unit, including a 26 times higher need for a ventilator. They are also at greater risk for preterm delivery, cesarean delivery, blood clots, and stillbirth.

Amid the vaccine rollout however, there has been a great deal of misinformation spread about the vaccines and vaccines in pregnancy. Pregnant women were not included in the initial trials, however, these studies have now begun. Thus far, in the United States, more than 40,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated with no adverse outcomes seen.

There is no evidence, nor any reason to suspect, that the messenger RNA (mRNA) used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines causes infertility, or changes maternal or fetal DNA. The vaccine does not contain any live virus or other ingredients that are known to be harmful to pregnant women or developing fetuses.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology demonstrated that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines generated a robust immune response in pregnant women, similar to non-pregnant women. The immune response generated by the vaccine was significantly greater than that generated by natural infection. Most exciting, is evidence that vaccine generated antibodies were present in umbilical cord blood and breast milk, likely giving passive immunity for baby. This is consistent with what we know about other vaccines in pregnancy, like a pertussis (whooping cough) booster that is recommended during EACH pregnancy to generate passive immunity for the fetus/baby.

Maine now will begin offering the vaccine to anyone over the age of 16 on April 7. I urge all women of child bearing age, pregnant or not, to get the vaccine. At Franklin Memorial Hospital, the Moderna vaccine is available at no cost to you. To pre-register for the vaccine call the MaineHealth Call Center at 877-780-7545.

Ultimately the decision about whether to receive the vaccine is a personal one. I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine on December 22, and the second dose 28 days later. I did have a headache and some chills after the second dose, but the biggest side effect for me is decreased anxiety. The vaccines represent a path forward and a return to some normalcy. Talk to your health care provider, consider information from reliable evidence-based sources, and if you can avoid getting COVID, pregnant or not, you should.

Susan Kearing, DO, FACOG

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