Vaccine Safety for Women of Child-Bearing YearsAugust 12, 2021
Dr. Peter Doelger is a practicing OB/GYN who has served Greater Hartford for over 35 years. Below he shares some thoughts on questions and concerns about the COVID vaccine for women of childbearing years and who are pregnant.
Is pregnancy a risk factor for COVID complications?
Pregnancy is a risk factor for COVID. I explain to my patients that half of the baby is not them, and the way that the body doesn’t reject the baby is that the immune system has to be decreased. So pregnancy is an immune-suppressed state, and that’s why pregnant women get colds more often, and why they last longer.
Pregnant women are definitely at greater risk for getting COVID. More importantly, they’re at greater risk for getting sick, being admitted to the hospital, ending up on the respirator, and dying.
Below are some frightening statistics:
- Over 100,000 pregnant women in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID
- 18,000 have been admitted to the hospital
- Over 100 pregnant women have died
Can you or your baby die from COVID?
Unfortunately, the answer to this is yes. At our hospital we had a patient with COVID that had to be intubated, and at 22 weeks of her pregnancy we did an emergency C-section in an attempt to save the mother’s life, and the baby died and two days later, the mother died. It’s a horrific event for everyone involved, including the healthcare providers, and it’s added frustration because now it’s a preventable disease, it’s a disease really for the un-vaccinated. This is part of the reason, as your healthcare provider, I feel so urgent about this issue.
Is the vaccine safe for women who are pregnant, nursing, or thinking of getting pregnant?
Based on what we know about this vaccine, and the studies that we have on pregnant women, the recommendation we give women who are considering getting pregnant, trying to get pregnant or are pregnant and breastfeeding, is to strongly recommend getting the vaccine. One of the added benefits of the vaccine is we now know that the antibodies the vaccine produces will pass to the baby, and our hope is that this will also prevent babies from getting the COVID virus.
We know that this vaccine does not interfere with a woman’s ability to conceive. We know this vaccine does not increase the miscarriage rate. We know this vaccine does not increase birth defects.
Why is getting the vaccine so important at this point in time?
We’re feeling particularly urgent at this period of time because of the new Delta virus, and unfortunately, this virus is much more contagious and dangerous than the previous strains of this virus. We are seeing a gigantic uptick, almost more than doubling every week, in younger patients and pediatric patients, and there are now newborns that are needing to be intubated because of this disease. And I do tell my pregnant patients that not only will they be protecting themselves, but their babies, by getting the vaccine.
Does the vaccine cause infertility?
The vaccine in no way interferes with a woman’s ability to get pregnant. I know it’s difficult if you’re thinking about getting pregnant, and you’ve heard a lot of misinformation about this vaccine. There is absolutely no data at all that this is true.
Before you get pregnant, it’s very important to be as healthy as you can be. We do talk to people about good nutrition, exercise, getting enough sleep, and definitely, women do not want to do anything to increase the chance of adversely affecting their pregnancy.
We know that this vaccine does not interfere with a woman’s ability to conceive. We know this vaccine does not increase miscarriage rate. We know this vaccine does not increase birth defects.
When is the right time to get the vaccine during pregnancy?
We usually recommend that people get the vaccine after the first trimester, and the reason we recommend this is that the normal reaction to the vaccine can include a slight elevation in temperature, and that’s something we usually like to avoid during the first trimester. Talk to your provider about the optimal timing for you.
Can I get the vaccine if I am breastfeeding?
Yes! We now know that the antibodies that the vaccine produces are passed to the baby through breast milk, so it’s a way of protecting a child that’s too young to receive the vaccine. So not only does the vaccine protect the mother, but it protects the baby too.
Do I need the vaccine if I already had COVID?
There is some protection if a patient has had COVID in terms of getting it again. But, with this new variant, the studies have shown that you have 10 times the antibody response from the vaccine than you do from actually having had the disease. So even though you’ve had COVID, you are much more protected if you go ahead and get the vaccine.
Questions/Concerns About the Vaccine
Can I trust the vaccine?
I think this is a difficult issue for a lot of patients, and I think that’s quite understandable. I can definitely understand people not having 100% faith in the pharmaceutical companies, the government, and even the medical profession. I don’t think we have always earned the trust that we ask of our patients. So I do understand the hesitancy about this vaccine, and I just want to take time to share some of the facts, and some of the concerns that I’m hearing from my patients.
There’s never been a vaccine that we have more experience with than this vaccine.
Was the vaccine rushed?
There’s a question about the vaccine in terms of how quickly it was developed because it came out much quicker than any vaccine in the past. There’s a concern that it was rushed, it wasn’t appropriately tested, and that it’s new technology.
This technology is not new. We’ve been using this technology for 20 years. We’ve been using this technology to teach your cells to fight cancer cells. And what they were able to do, using this technique, is to teach your cells to fight the SARS virus.
People talk about this being a new vaccine, but this vaccine has been received by over 350 million people in the United States and by over 4 billion people around the world. There is nothing new about it at this point.
Does this vaccine stay indefinitely in your body?
There’s a concern about putting something foreign in your body, which is very understandable. There’s a concern about how long the vaccine is in your body. I would like to point out that once it hits your bloodstream, it very quickly disappears. And this technology teaches your cells to produce a protein so if you ever get the SARS virus, it will be able to remove it from your body. We have studies in pregnant women showing that, within one to three days after getting the vaccine, there is no vaccine found in their breast milk. So we know that the vaccine is in your system for a very, very short period of time.
Are there side effects of the vaccine?
You’re definitely going to get some side effects from the vaccine. I got my vaccine and had a headache and some nausea. Being a male, I really felt it was the end of the world – it wasn’t – so I took some medication and I was fine. You want to get a little bit of a reaction after the vaccine, that’s a sign that you’re getting an immune response. So that’s something that you actually should expect, and again, almost always it’s pretty minimal.
Is the vaccine really 100% safe?
The risk of getting COVID during pregnancy is much greater than in the general population. Pregnant women who get COVID are at much greater risk for severe complications. Patients often tell me, “Well, I’m concerned about this vaccine, no one knows 100% if it’s safe,” and that’s true – no one knows if anything’s 100% safe.
I point out to them the growing body of evidence about adverse health effects after having COVID. COVID is a disease that affects all the vessels in your body, and we’re seeing people now having significant respiratory issues, kidney issues, lung issues, we have young people having heart failure due to the fact that they’ve had COVID. And some people are sick for months or even a year after having this disease. So it’s not only getting the disease, but it’s possible to have side effects afterwards.
We’re incredibly lucky to have this vaccine. This vaccine is over 95% effective. That’s amazing. Some years the flu vaccine is only 20% effective. It’s truly a miracle of modern science. We’re so lucky to be in a society where we have this offered. Please think about getting this vaccine; do it for yourself, do it for your children, do it for your loved ones, do it for your coworkers, do it for your patients. Do it for the nation. If we had a better vaccine response, we’d be back to normal by now.