The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a health advisory urging people who are pregnant, recently pregnant (including those who are lactating), trying to become pregnant, or who might become pregnant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"CDC strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccination either before or during pregnancy because the benefits of vaccination outweigh known or potential risks," the agency said in its September 29 health alert.
COVID-Urges-Pregnant-Women-to-Get-the-COVID-Vaccine-AdobeStock_456779889 . Among pregnant people, only 31% are fully vaccinated.
The CDC has already recommended that pregnant people (and anyone who was recently pregnant or is trying to conceive) get vaccinated against COVID. That guidance is in line with what the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine advise. This new alert double downs on that recommendation.
Numbers show why the COVID vaccine is important for these groups. Included in the CDC health alert is this stat: Pregnant people with symptomatic COVID-19 have a 70% increased risk of dying compared to people with COVID who aren't pregnant. Pregnant people also have higher odds of developing severe infection. Those who are pregnant who contract COVID—as well as those who were recently pregnant—are more likely to require hospitalization, intensive care, mechanical ventilation, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).
It's not only a pregnant person's health that's at stake but also that of their child. The CDC reports a higher risk for adverse pregnancy and neonatal outcomes, including preterm birth and ICU admission for their newborn. Some research also suggests that pregnant people with COVID-19 have an increased risk for preeclampsia, coagulopathy (when your body's ability to form clots is impaired), and stillbirth, notes the CDC. And while rare, pregnant people with COVID-19 have also been found to pass the virus along to their newborns.
"There is clear evidence that pregnant women are at significantly higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19, up to and including maternal and fetal death," Jeanne Sheffield, MD, director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, tells Health. "There is also clear evidence that vaccination significantly decreases the risk of severe disease in pregnant women who are infected with COVID-19."
Why are so many pregnant people hesitant to get the shot?
The hesitancy stems from a number of places, including concerns about the vaccine's effect on the fetus (both short- and long-term) as well as rumors that the shot can impair fertility, Dr. Sheffield says. But as she points out to her patients, the vaccine hasn't been tied to any significant increase in health risks for pregnant people—and there's no evidence to suggest it has an effect on fertility.
"The main concerns I'm hearing from my pregnant (or soon-to-be pregnant) patients who decline to be vaccinated are still centered around vaccine safety and the perception that the vaccine was rushed to market," Ashley Roman, MD, director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at NYU Langone Health, tells Health.
Instead of getting vaccinated, her patients will often say they believe they'll be fine as long as they mask up and social distance. "But as we know, this is a very contagious virus and these precautions are not perfect in preventing infection," Dr. Roman explains. "Most pregnant women I see who do get the virus are unable to pinpoint how they got it. They say, 'I was doing everything right!' Except getting the vaccine. This is why the vaccine is so important."
When the vaccine underwent initial clinical trials, pregnant women were not included, and that could be another reason people are hesitant about getting the shot now. But as Dr. Roman points out, now that thousands of pregnant people have received the vaccine, "we have nine months of experience and data…demonstrating that not only is the vaccine performing as we want it to—preventing severe illness in pregnant mothers—it appears to be safe for the fetus."
Research suggests that getting vaccinated in pregnancy might do more than just protect yourself from contracting COVID—it might also pass on protective benefits to your unborn child. A new American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology study, which Dr. Roman coauthored, shows that the antibodies from the vaccine during pregnancy cross the placenta and are present in the newborn's bloodstream, which can protect the baby in the early days to months of life from COVID illness.
"The best COVID-19 vaccine is any one that's available to you," the CDC said in a tweet on September 29. "Don't wait for a specific brand. All three authorized and approved vaccines help prevent COVID-19, especially severe illness and death."
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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