Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is everywhere, and it’s affecting vaccination rates in this country, contributing to unnecessary virus surges. It’s also specifically impacting inoculation rates in America’s pregnant population; currently, just 23 percent of those expecting are vaccinated. While myths and misinformation are rampant, not all those hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy have bad intel about its safety, necessity, or efficacy. Many simply don’t want to take on any perceived risk–even when forgoing vaccination is potentially harmful.
“So much hesitancy is born out of fear that there might be some unknown harm to the baby, and I had considered those things, too, when I was deciding to get vaccinated, “says Larissa Mattei, MD, a Chicago-based OB/GYN who got the vaccine while pregnant. “At this point, we have enough very good quality data and evidence on long-term follow-up from thousands of women who have been pregnant and vaccinated to tell us that it’s safe to get the vaccine in pregnancy,” she adds.
In February of this year, board-certified OB/GYN Lucky Sekhon, MD, addressed several FAQs surrounding COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy. Since then, she says that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published an interim analysis of long-term outcomes in pregnant women who received the vaccine. They found that “there was no increase in adverse pregnancy outcomes compared to the rates normally reported in the general pregnant population, pre-pandemic,” says Dr. Sekhon.
Additionally, Dr. Sekhon notes that fertility clinics have conducted studies showing no difference in implantation or pregnancy loss rates after frozen embryo transfer in vaccinated women who haven’t had COVID, those with antibodies post-infection, and those with antibodies post-vaccination. In other words, there was no observed impact on fertility from COVID-19 vaccinations.
And both Dr. Mattei and Dr. Sekhon point out that while existing data shows that vaccines are safe during pregnancy, intel from earlier in the year suggests that COVID-19 poses a grave risk to those who are pregnant. “There’s a higher risk of pregnant women needing hospitalization, mechanical ventilation, preterm delivery, and risk of death if they get COVID while pregnant,” Dr. Sekhon says.
Pregnant people are at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications because pregnancy changes a lot about your body, explains Dr. Mattei. “Your blood volume increases, the way your breathing works changes, your cardiac output increases–there’s a lot of physiology that changes in pregnancy,” she says. “And so to add on top of that, the demand that COVID puts on your system increases your risk of having significant illness quite a lot.” And while breakthrough infections can happen post-vaccination, they are still likely to be mild and survived, whether you’re pregnant or not, Dr. Sekhon says.
It’s not just the CDC recommending that pregnant women get vaccinated, either. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommend that all pregnant people be vaccinated for COVID-19. “If you have a doctor that’s telling you otherwise, that person is not giving you the standard of care, and they’re not providing you with evidence-based recommendations,” says Dr. Mattei.
So, the long and short of it is that vaccines are both safe but recommended for all pregnant people (and those hoping to conceive in the future, too). Below, five women from across the U.S. share their experiences with getting vaccinated while expecting.
1. ‘Vaccine side effects were the least of my worries’
My baby was due May 2, and I had my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on April 26. I was very fearful of COVID-19. When everyone started to get vaccinated, I kept asking my doctor, ‘Are you sure I shouldn’t get vaccinated?’ He said that he didn’t want me to because there weren’t enough studies yet. Then there was a study that came out showing that mothers who got the vaccine passed those antibodies on to their babies, and I decided I was going to get it.
I called my doctor and basically begged for his blessing. Finally, he gave it, so I got the shot. I didn’t have any side effects, but honestly, it would be hard to tell if I did because I was so pregnant and uncomfortable. I also had pubic symphysis dysfunction, which is like the equivalent of your pubic bone breaking. So vaccine side effects were the least of my worries.
I was supposed to get my second dose the day before I was scheduled to be induced, but in that case, I did listen to my doctors, who wanted me to delay the shot until post-delivery. My doctors were worried they wouldn’t be able to tell if my fever was due to the vaccine or a problem with the baby. But I delivered on a Monday and got the second shot on that Friday.
Ultimately, I was okay with getting the vaccine because I knew that friends had safely gotten it while pregnant. I have a mother-in-law, who is a pediatrician, translate studies for me, and I’ve reaped the benefits of new vaccines, like the Gardisil vaccine for HPV, in the past. — Lauren Steiner, Las Vegas, NV: Vaccinated at 8 months pregnant
2. ‘It was definitely a decision I thought about for a while’
I’m an OB/GYN, so I got vaccinated a bit earlier than others. I was vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine in December of 2020. At that time, I was about 25 weeks pregnant.
It was definitely a decision that I thought about for a while because, at the time, we didn’t have any data about vaccination in pregnancy. We were also only just starting to have studies coming out about the effects of COVID infection in pregnancy. But in the months leading up to when that vaccine was available to me, I had taken care of so many pregnant women who we sent to the ICU. I had done emergency C-sections in the ICU to deliver these peoples’ babies. I had women that were put on heart-lung machines. I had people that we saw initially in the hospital and were sent home, and then within a week, they came back and were really critically ill.
So I saw all of these awful things happening and realized that there must be some increased risk of COVID complications during pregnancy. Now, sure enough, that’s what the data is telling us–pregnant people are much more likely to need ICU-level care, they’re at higher risk of preterm delivery, and they just have way more complications. And so when I was weighing all of these things that I was seeing, and the fact that I was exposed to COVID literally every day at work, versus hypothetical side effects with the vaccine, I felt like one of those options was clearly more high risk than the other.
In any case, I didn’t have any side effects from the vaccine, but I received both doses on days when I had to work 24-hour shifts and couldn’t afford to be sick. I took Tylenol every 8 hours as a precaution. Emotionally, I felt relieved because I was seeing all these horrible things and because I had been worried about bringing COVID home to my family. — Larissa Mattei, MD, Chicago, IL: Vaccinated at 6 months pregnant
3. ‘My baby’s father is not vaccinated, but I didn’t discuss it with him’
I got the Moderna vaccine as soon as it was available to me, and I work in a dental office, so that was in January 2021, when I was 6 months pregnant.
I asked my doctor for pros and cons, and she basically told me I could get the vaccine and feel like crap for 12 to 24 hours, or I can get COVID and potentially give it to my baby. Basically, she said that the side effects from the vaccine are going to be way less harmful than the short and long-term effects of having COVID. So I weighed the risk that way.
My baby’s father is not vaccinated, but I didn’t discuss it with him before getting the shot because it’s not his body. There are some anti-vaccination sentiments where I live, but I wasn’t met with any resistance because everyone I allow to be in my life is vaccinated.
After my second shot, I felt tired and sore, and I had a headache, but after about 12 hours, it went away. Emotionally, I felt relieved because I knew I would have a healthy, happy baby, and that she would potentially have antibodies. I don’t regret my decision at all. I rather take 12 hours to feel like absolute dogshit than carry a child for 9 months and potentially lose my child or my own life to COVID-19–I can’t even fathom that. — Haley Keehn, Gardner, KS: Vaccinated at 6 months pregnant
4. ‘It was the best decision I could have made’
I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in early March, the second dose at the end of March, and I had my son at the end of April (so I was about 8 months pregnant at the time of vaccination).
I was always a strong proponent of getting the vaccine while pregnant, but once my OB/GYN said to get it, I booked my appointment. She told me that getting COVID while pregnant was definitely riskier than the vaccine. I also made my immediate family get the vaccine the second they were eligible to protect them and to protect me while pregnant. They were so thrilled once I got the vaccine. I had very few side effects–a sore arm for sure and extra tiredness, but that was the extent of it.
I would not look back with a second of regret on receiving it while pregnant. It was the best decision I could have made–not only to ease my anxiousness but also because it potentially passed on my antibodies to my baby. After I received it, I tried to share my experience with as many pregnant friends as possible, encouraging them to get the vaccine. I think it’s so important for people to be informed, especially while pregnant. — Juliette Caspi, Philadelphia, PA: Vaccinated at 8 months pregnant
5. ‘I had another child who was already here and needed their mom’
I was vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine in March, and I had my baby on August 4.
I didn’t really talk to anybody before getting vaccinated–I actually talked to my doctor after my first dose. I knew all along that I was going to get the vaccine once it was available to me, and when pregnant people were moved into a vaccination priority group, I knew there was a reason for it. So I got the shot. It wasn’t a hard decision–I believe in science, and my family is in the medical field and had all been vaccinated already. Weirdly, the pharmacist seemed a little judgmental about me getting the shot while pregnant, but other than that, I didn’t receive any pushback.
After the second dose, I had a headache, fatigue, and a super sore arm. Honestly, I felt like I got hit by a truck, but I was relieved. Of course, I think anybody has concerns when you’re pregnant about whether or not a choice like this will affect the baby negatively, but for me, I also did it because I had another child who was already here and needed their mom not to have COVID complications.
It’s a tough decision, but for me, it was just about following the facts and the science. Obviously, we don’t know anything super long-term yet, but I think when you weigh it against the risk for pregnant women, it’s definitely worth getting. — Jamie Han, Chicago, IL: Vaccinated at 5 months pregnant
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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