Not only do COVID-19 vaccines help protect pregnant women from developing severe complications from the virus, but a growing body of evidence suggests that getting vaccinated while pregnant can help protect babies, too.
A study conducted at several New England universities and health centers found the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be highly effective at producing antibodies against the COVID-19 virus in pregnant and lactating women.
“Pregnant women are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications, so it’s exciting to see data that proves the vaccines’ efficacy for these patients,” says Dr. Monica Selander, an OB-GYN who practices at the Georgetown and Holmestown Road locations of Tidelands Health Women’s Center.
Physiological changes that occur during pregnancy can put pregnant women at higher risk for becoming severely ill with COVID-19, Dr. Selander says. Pregnancy increases stress on the body’s cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The immune system also remains in a state of flux as it creates the right environment for fetal development.
“When you combine all those factors, it means pregnant women are more likely to get severe COVID-19. That’s why it’s so important to have effective vaccines available for pregnant women, and for pregnant women to take advantage of them,” she says.
Good for newborns, too
But there’s another benefit to getting vaccinated. The study conducted in New England, which was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found COVID-19 antibodies in mothers’ umbilical cords and breastmilk. That means babies receive those antibodies from their mothers, conferring protective immunity from the virus.
Another smaller study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis backs up that finding. The study found that antibodies mothers passed to babies through breastmilk remained in the baby’s body for at least 80 days following vaccination.
“The new data that’s emerging indicate maternal vaccines also help protect babies. This is extremely valuable information patients need when making decisions about vaccination,” Dr. Selander says.
Complications more likely
Meanwhile, as the pandemic has continued, researchers have continued to gather more data about the risks of COVID-19 to pregnant women and their newborns.
British researchers at the University of Oxford recently published a study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics that found COVID-19 put pregnant women and their newborns at significantly greater risk from COVID-19 than previously known.
The study of more than 2,100 pregnant women across 18 countries found pregnant women with COVID-19 were much more likely to experience pregnancy complications than pregnant women unaffected by COVID-19. Newborns of infected women were also at much higher risk for severe medical complications, primarily due to premature birth.
COVID-19 vaccine safe, effective
Although pregnant women weren’t included in initial COVID-19 vaccine trials, tens of thousands of pregnant women have registered with the CDC’s V-Safe vaccine monitoring program. Women who register are asked questions several times following vaccination to track outcomes.
In mid-February, the CDC said tracking done to that point “did not indicate any safety problem” among pregnant women. That means there was no difference in the rates of miscarriage, stillbirth, pregnancy complications or neonatal outcomes between historical rates and vaccinated pregnant women.
One vaccine, two people protected
Dr. Selander says some pregnant women are concerned about developing temporary, short-term symptoms such as fever following vaccination. However, there’s no indication that vaccine-related symptoms pose a risk to mother or child. Such symptoms indicate the body is responding to the vaccine by building immunity.
“Pregnant women can take Tylenol if they get the vaccine and develop a fever,” Dr. Selander says. “It’s safe to use in pregnancy and will bring down a fever.”
She says the recent studies demonstrating the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine among pregnant women is extremely encouraging.
“With one vaccination, we can help protect two people – both mother and child,” Dr. Selander says. “That’s very powerful information we hope will reassure and encourage pregnant women to benefit from the vaccine.”
Dr. Monica Selander
OB-GYN, Tidelands Health Women's Center
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Tidelands Health OB-GYN Dr. Monica Selander offers care at Tidelands Health Women’s Center.Learn More
- Norwich University
- University of New England, College of Osteopathic Medicine
- Michigan State University
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Dr. Monica Selander
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Tidelands Health OB-GYN Dr. Monica Selander offers care at Tidelands Health Women’s Center.