Updated May 3, 2021
As the COVID-19 vaccine pandemic continues, multiple vaccine candidates have emerged.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) to vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. Other vaccine candidates may seek approval in the future.
The first doses of vaccine went to frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Other high-risk groups became eligible for the vaccine afterward.
One high-risk group for COVID-19 is pregnant women. A report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant and lactating women when they meet the other criteria for receiving the vaccine.
COVID-19 Risk in Pregnant Women
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women with symptoms are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than people who are not pregnant. Severe illness includes hospitalization, possible mechanical ventilation, and death.
The CDC also says symptomatic pregnant women with COVID-19 are at greater risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes like preterm birth.
Pregnant women with other health conditions like obesity and diabetes may be at even greater risk, according to a CDC report. Black and Hispanic women who are pregnant also appear to have a higher risk of COVID-19 infection and death, the report says. Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Island women who are pregnant have a higher risk of ICU admission.
For those reasons, all pregnant women should take precautions against COVID-19, the CDC says.
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Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Pregnant Women?
The Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J vaccines are all safe and highly effective in preventing COVID-19. All three are especially effective in preventing severe outcomes, including hospitalization and death.
According to the FDA, side effects for the vaccines tend to be mild and include:
- Injection site reactions
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
None of the authorized vaccines was tested directly in pregnant or breastfeeding women, but studies are ongoing.
In April 2021, the New England Journal of Medicine published a preliminary study on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines’ safety for pregnant women. According to the study, there were no signs that the vaccines were unsafe for pregnant women or their unborn babies.
The study showed pregnant women experienced injection site pain more frequently than women who were not pregnant. Pregnant women reported headache, myalgia, chills, and fever at a lower rate than women who were not pregnant.
The ACOG says there are no signals yet identified that would show the vaccines are unsafe for pregnant or lactating women. Pregnant and lactating women have received vaccines for other diseases for many years, the ACOG says.
Scientists continue to monitor the vaccines’ effects in everyone, including pregnant women, as they are being distributed.
On April 23, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement lifting a nationwide pause in use of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. Federal health officials investigated cases of a rare, serious blood clot reported in some people after they received the J&J vaccine.
After their investigation, the CDC and FDA determined the risk of blood clots from this vaccine is very low and the known benefits in preventing COVID-19 are very high for all, outweighing the risks. The vaccine is safe and effective in preventing COVID-19.
After the CDC and FDA paused the J&J vaccine on April 13, the ACOG issued a statement that pregnant women who wished to get vaccinated should be made aware that vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer were still available. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have not been linked to blood clots.
Should Pregnant Women Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Pregnant women are much more at risk from COVID-19 complications than they are from the vaccine. Because of that, getting the vaccine is an important step to prevent COVID-19.
The vaccines carry some common side effects. They include pain and swelling where you get the shot, fever, chills, fatigue, and headache. Side effects are generally mild and subside within a few days.
The first doses of new COVID-19 vaccines began distribution in the United States in December 2020. The first phase of doses went to frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Later phases of vaccine distribution include older adults, people with underlying health conditions, essential workers, and the general public.
Pennsylvania included pregnant women in Phase 1a of vaccine distribution. People in Phase 1a are currently eligible to get vaccinated, including women who are pregnant.
According to ACOG, pregnant or lactating women who are eligible to receive a vaccine should be free to get one if they choose to do so. Before getting the vaccine, they may want to talk to their health care provider to help them make their decision.
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When Will Pregnant Women Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities should receive the first doses of vaccine.
Vaccine distribution then expanded to people who are at high risk for COVID-19 complications. This included older adults and people with underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of COVID-19, including pregnancy. Vaccine distribution is occurring across the United States.
In Pennsylvania, pregnant women are currently eligible to get the vaccine.
Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Affect Fertility?
There is no evidence that the authorized COVID-19 vaccines can cause problems with fertility, the CDC says.
If you are trying to become pregnant now or in the future, you can get the vaccine if you are eligible.
Other COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in development and may also receive approval for use. As vaccine distribution continues, scientists will continue to monitor their safety and efficacy and more data will become available.
For more information, visit UPMC.com/COVID19.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.