What pregnant women need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine

All of us are waiting with bated breath for the much-anticipated arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine. I might even include it on my Christmas wish list this year.

The successful trials and high efficacy rates of the COVID-19 vaccine have been a welcome highlight in an otherwise dreadful year plagued by disappointing headlines. The vaccine will be available to high-risk individuals first including health care professionals, residents at nursing homes, older Americans, and other essential workers.

Should mothers-to-be also be included in this high-risk group?

Will it be safe for pregnant women to get the vaccine? We are still in the early clinical trial phase of producing a vaccine that will be a worthy adversary against the novel coronavirus. Here is what we know for the time being in this most recent study.

Why should pregnant women be considered high risk?

Before we delve into the specifics of this study I’d like to remind the readers that further research is required to truly determine the risks involved through inoculation against this virus concerning pregnant women.

Obviously, we will know more when the vaccine is approved to administer to the general public. A co-author of the developing study makes the case for women who are pregnant to be considered amongst other high-risk patients with first dibs on the vaccine.

“Based on data collected over the past few months, the CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say that pregnant women are at slightly higher risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. They also have a higher risk of dying from the virus than their non-pregnant counterparts.”

This wouldn’t be the first time women have been vaccinated for a deadly illness while pregnant or breastfeeding. Flu shots are completely safe to be administered during pregnancy and these antibodies also carry over to the child through the placenta or while breastfeeding. It’s like a two-for-one protection deal against a fatal virus for both of you!

Out of the 42,000 pregnant women who had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, 55 of those women succumbed to the illness. While a vaccine has the power to cross the protective blood-barriers into the placenta to protect your new-born baby, unfortunately, the SARS-CoV-2 virus can also hitch a ride into the amniotic fluid protecting and supplying nutrients to your child.

An unsettling new study outlined how the spikey proteins that form the outside of this virus act as a battering ram to knock down any protective barriers in its path. This could be the reason why some doctors found trace amounts of the virus on the fetal side of the placenta, umbilical cords, and new mother’s breast milk. Again, more research is required to find out if transmission happened in-womb during the pregnancy or after the baby was born.

At the height of the COVID-19 infection rates in Northern Italy doctors took samples from 31 women who were COVID-19 positive that delivered babies. The doctors found the virus’s RNA material in 1 umbilical cord blood sample, 2 vaginal swabs, and 1 sample of breast milk. Researchers also found antibodies in the blood of the umbilical cord and in the breast milk.

While the following results are not conclusive enough to relegate widespread panic it’s best to err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting you and your newborn.

Dr. Ashley Roman is a pregnancy specialist at NYU Langone Health and she has some wisdom to impart for all pregnant women the following statement.

“The new report adds to evidence that in-womb transmission is possible, but it seems rare and to not cause serious problems in the infants. The most important thing that pregnant women need to know is it’s important to socially distance. It’s important to wear a mask, wash their hands. Women don’t need to be cut off from society entirely, but they should be concerned about the impact of getting COVID on their own health during pregnancy.”

The takeaway

With the knowledge that pregnant women are particularly high-risk for fatal complications associated with the novel coronavirus we should consider including them in future clinical trials.

The reason we are so unsure about the specifics related to the safety of this vaccine when it comes to affecting the well-being of expecting mothers, breastfeeding mothers, and their babies (by proxy) is because not one pregnant woman was included in the preliminary trials. In order to test the true efficacy of the vaccine, we must include all high-risk people. According to this press release excluding pregnant women from clinical trials concerning vaccinations is nothing new.

“Despite a decades-long push to include expectant mothers as subjects in clinical research, it’s actually not uncommon to exclude pregnant women from the early stages of vaccine development, when researchers are really testing for safety. For example, pregnant women weren’t included in initial trials for the H1N1 vaccine. So while they were identified as a high-risk population, there wasn’t readily available data about what kind of dosing they should receive.”

Make sure you stay up to date on all the new information released by the CDC to best protect yourself and your loved ones against this insidious virus.