A vaccine is clearly the most promising strategy for combating COVID-19 for the general population, but its safety for pregnant women, who were not included in the vaccine trials, is less clear. But that doesn’t mean the COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women. Many types of vaccines have been safely given to pregnant and lactating women for decades.
The recommendation is that women and their health care providers should weigh the benefits and risks together. When making a decision about a vaccine, there are a few things to consider: the availability of safety data on the vaccine, the risks of getting COVID-19 while pregnant, and a woman’s individual health risk, such as having an underlying medical condition, for developing severe disease.
“Pregnant women have two options — to get a vaccine when it’s available or to wait for more information about how the vaccine affects pregnant women,” says UCLA OB/GYN Rashmi Rao, MD. “The American College of Obstetrician Gynecologists recommends that COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant individuals who meet criteria for vaccination. However, it’s a decision that is best made in collaboration with a health care professional who knows your personal medical history.”
While the vaccines have not been tested in pregnant women, there were participants in the clinical trials who did become pregnant, notes Yalda Afshar, MD, PhD, a specialist in maternal and fetal medicine. “There have been no reports of any problems with these pregnancies, and they are continuing to be monitored,” she says.
Going forward, as pregnant individuals get a vaccine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will gather detailed information about its safety and effectiveness during pregnancy, Dr. Afshar says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with other federal partners, will monitor new vaccines for serious side effects using existing vaccine safety monitoring systems.
Dr. Rao says that for women who are breastfeeding, “the benefits of vaccination outweigh the very small safety concerns. You do not have to delay or stop breastfeeding just because you get a vaccine.” Nor is there any reason for women who are trying to conceive or undergoing fertility treatment to delay getting the vaccine. “Since these are not live vaccines, there is no reason to delay trying to get pregnant or delaying fertility treatment because of your vaccination schedule,” Dr. Rao says.
And while some people experience side effects after vaccination, they generally are mild and often produce a normal bodily response to the vaccine and the development of antibodies to protect against the disease, Dr. Afshar notes. Acetaminophen generally is sufficient to address such side effects as fever or pain, she says.