Updated April 5, 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 women 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 vaccine has a reported 95% efficacy rate, while the Moderna vaccine has a reported 94% efficacy rate. The J&J vaccine has a reported efficacy rate of around 70% against mild to moderate COVID-19 and 85% against severe COVID-19. All three are highly 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 underway or planned. So far, there is no indication that the vaccines cause harm to pregnant women or their unborn babies.
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.
As of March 15, 2021, more than 45,000 pregnant women had received one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Scientists continue to monitor the vaccines’ effects in everyone, including pregnant women, as they are being distributed.
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.
Laura E. Riley, MD, Richard Beigi, MD, Denise J. Jamieson, MD, Brenna L. Hughes, MD, Geeta Swamy, MD, Linda O'Neal Eckert, MD, Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, MD, Mark Turrentine, MD, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Vaccinating Pregnant and Lactating Patients Against COVID-19. Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 and Pregnancy. Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Update: Characteristics of Symptomatic Women of Reproductive Age with Laboratory-Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 Infection by Pregnancy Status — United States, January 22–October 3, 2020. Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices' Interim Recommendation for Use of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine — United States, December 2020. Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Phased Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccines. Link
Food and Drug Administration, Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee Meeting, December 10, 2020. Link
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