By Tiffany Bierbaum, PA-C
There are few things in a woman’s life that match pregnancy for both anticipation and uncertainty, but for those who have been pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty can at times outweigh the joy. In addition to concerns about the virus itself, there are many questions about the risks of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 during pregnancy. For those who are pregnant this year, or who are considering becoming pregnant, dividing the facts from misinformation can be difficult.
Dr. Christina Davidson, a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, reports that at their clinic, all pregnant patients are encouraged to get the vaccine, with compassionate counseling to those who have concerns or are not interested in vaccination. Dr. Davidson adds that “I just try to be more understanding from a standpoint of yes, I can understand why you feel that way . . . There are some patients who have hesitations about getting the vaccine and I try to see where they are in their thought process with it.”
The Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) consider pregnant women to be at high risk for severe complications from COVID-19 and its variants. According to the ACOG Summary of Key Updates, pregnant women are more likely to need intensive care treatment or mechanical ventilation if they contract COVID-19. Pregnant women are also at greater risk of death from COVID-19 than their nonpregnant peers. Women of color are noted to have higher rates of these complications.
While pregnant women can have the same symptoms of COVID-19 as the rest of the population, they also carry unique risks related to pregnancy. Pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are more likely to have high blood pressure issues that complicate pregnancy, such as preeclampsia. There are also risks to the fetus when a pregnant woman contracts COVID-19. Babies born to mothers who had COVID-19 during their pregnancy carry an increased risk of preterm delivery and/or need for neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) support at birth.
In light of these concerns, the CDC, ACOG and SMFM recommend vaccination for all women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future. Dr. Davidson agrees, “I very strongly support and advocate for our pregnant patients getting the vaccine.” Studies have found that pregnant women who get any of the COVID-19 vaccines have similar pregnancy outcomes to those who have not been vaccinated. Likewise, the vaccination has been shown to be safe for women and babies who are actively breastfeeding. According to Dr. Davidson, most of the concerns expressed by her patients are related to the potential side effects of the vaccine and the safety during pregnancy.
“Since the vaccine trials did not include pregnant women, it was more challenging to counsel about the COVID-19 vaccine right after it was approved because we really didn’t know if there were risks to the pregnancy. Now, thanks to those pregnant women who received the vaccine
when it first became available, we have data to support its safety. So now I tell my patients that, based on reports of more than 100,000 pregnant people who received the vaccine, the side effects are no different than those experienced by non-pregnant individuals. I also tell them that receiving the vaccine during pregnancy not only protects them but may also provide protection to the baby after delivery,” Dr. Davidson states.
Scientists have been working hard to alleviate anxieties about the vaccine as well. For example, there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine will affect fertility. Scientific evidence also does not support the concern that getting the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant will increase the risk of miscarriage.
Given the considerable risks to pregnant women, the medical staff at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women has been working diligently to make the vaccine available to their patients. Dr.
Davidson, however, has made it personal. She states, “I got the vaccine the day after it was approved and everyone in my house is fully vaccinated, including my teenage children.”
Patients wanting to get the COVID-19 vaccination can make an appointment TexasChildrens.org/get-vaccinated or contact their local health care provider.