Nearly two years have gone by since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time of uncertainty, misinformation has run wild, and many of us aren’t sure what to believe. We want our patients and community to have access to trustworthy data.
Unfortunately, pregnant people are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. If they get sick, they are more likely to have severe disease requiring hospitalization, supplemental oxygen, assistance with breathing from a machine and death. There is also an increased risk of early delivery and a possible increased risk of death of the unborn baby.
Pregnant women are also at higher risk of long-term symptoms after COVID that may last eight or more weeks. Although children less than one year old seem to be at lower risk from COVID, they still can get sick and potentially spread COVID to other family members or friends.
Fortunately, there are three different COVID vaccines available in the United States.
Two of these vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, use a new technology to allow the body to recognize COVID and later fight this illness more effectively. These vaccines require two doses and a follow-up booster. They are more than 90% effective at preventing severe COVID disease, keeping pregnant women out of the hospital and preventing death.
The Pfizer vaccine has received full FDA approval and the Moderna vaccine is under FDA emergency use authorization. These vaccines are safe for pregnant women and unborn babies. The most common side effects are tiredness, muscle aches, arm pain at the injection site, headache, chills, fever and nausea.
The third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, uses a technology similar to that used for the flu vaccine and is more than 70% effective at preventing severe disease. This vaccine is a single dose and should be followed up with a booster.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also considered safe for pregnant women and unborn babies. There have been reports of blood clots in the brain associated with Johnson & Johnson which required investigation, but these are extremely rare. However, this might be something to consider when choosing a vaccine. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine also has FDA emergency use authorization.
Are vaccines safe during breastfeeding?
Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, two leading organizations that represent physicians in obstetric care, recommend all pregnant individuals be vaccinated during COVID-19.
Vaccination is safe in any stage of pregnancy, as well as being safe before and after pregnancy, especially compared to the risk of COVID-19 infection in an unvaccinated person. COVID vaccines are also safe for breastfeeding mothers.
There is no evidence that any of these vaccines cause fertility problems in men or women. There is evidence that vaccination during pregnancy builds antibodies that are passed on to the baby, which might protect them against illness after birth.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options for protection today.
Doctors Lauren Kendall Brown-Berchtold and Shani Hanh Truong practice family medicine at San Joaquin General Hospital and clinics affiliated with the Health Plan of San Joaquin Provider Network serving 390,000 Medi-Cal members across Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.