Dr. Jennie Draper discusses the new statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on the importance of vaccination for pregnant women and the misinformation surrounding the vaccine’s effects on fertility
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued a new statement strongly recommending that all eligible persons, especially those who are pregnant or lactating, receive full COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible. It also dispels rumors that vaccination has shown any adverse effects on fertility.
Why is it especially important for pregnant women to get vaccinated now?
We learned relatively early in the pandemic that pregnant women were even more vulnerable to severe illness due to COVID-19 than the general public. Now, studies are showing that the Delta variant is hospitalizing pregnant women at higher rates than the original virus, and more unvaccinated pregnant women are ending up in the ICU.
We also now have more data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, as well as how it can provide protection for babies. Studies have found that vaccinated pregnant and lactating women produced comparable immune responses to those of non-pregnant vaccinated women. Vaccinated pregnant women also generated higher levels of antibodies in their system than women who were infected with COVID-19 during their pregnancy. Studies also found that women who had been vaccinated during pregnancy passed on vaccine-generated antibodies to their babies through umbilical cord blood and breastmilk (Gray 2021, Prabhu 2021, Juncker 2021).
Concerns over the vaccine feeling “rushed”
It’s understandable that patients, especially pregnant patients, have questions about the safety of a new vaccine before deciding to receive it. Yet while the COVID-19-specific vaccines seem new, coronavirus vaccines have been studied for a long time. Several years of research led up to their development. The onset of a global pandemic meant there was suddenly a very large number of candidates available for trials, as well as funding to conduct those trials. Scientists didn’t skip over any safety measures in a “rush” to develop the vaccine; they were just able to collect and study large amounts of data much faster than past vaccines that took years to gain enough funding and trial participants necessary for sufficient testing.
Can the vaccine cause genetic changes?
As VPFW’s Dr. Amanda Vaughan noted in her vaccine FAQ’s, the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are not live virus vaccines. They do not enter the cell nucleus and do not alter human DNA in vaccine recipients. As a result, the mRNA vaccines can’t cause any genetic changes. In fact, in the studies for the current vaccines, pregnant patients were vaccinated inadvertently, and they and their babies have all done well.
Why not wait until after childbirth to get vaccinated?
For pregnant women who are hesitant to receive the vaccine, keep in mind that if you are pregnant and become sick with COVID-19, you set yourself up for potentially exposing the fetus to a lot of (potentially new) medications and treatments to aid in your recovery, as well as medications to help keep you well and protect the fetus.
I’ve had patients who wanted to wait until after giving birth to become vaccinated, but for the two-dose COVID vaccines, you really aren’t protected well from the Delta strain until after the second dose. That means a lengthy wait time for protection with a newborn at home.
Does vaccination affect fertility?
ACOG also notes that claims linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility are unfounded and have no scientific evidence supporting them. It recommends vaccination for all eligible people who may consider future pregnancy. Dr. Vaughan’s vaccine FAQ’s also specifically note that those claiming a link between the spike protein formed by receiving the mRNA-based vaccines and blockage of a protein necessary for formation of the human placenta and its adherence to the uterus are false.
Seeing more COVID-19 positive patients now than ever
I have had more patients report positive COVID-19 infections in the last month, including younger patients requiring hospitalizations, than I have had in any previous period during the pandemic. All the current studies coming out on the Delta variant report that it is more infectious and has a higher viral load present than the original COVID virus we saw earlier in the pandemic. Unlike the original virus, which was more worrisome in older patients and those with medical problems, this variant is not partial to a particular age group.
VPFW recommends all patients become fully vaccinated ASAP
At VPFW, we agree with ACOG and recommend all of our patients, especially those who are pregnant, get vaccinated ASAP if they haven’t already. While it is true that vaccinated individuals can still contract the Delta variant, all the COVID-19 vaccines available in the US are preventing hospitalizations and death among vaccinated individuals. This is especially true for pregnant women. We also strongly encourage hand washing as often as possible, as well as physical distancing and masking as additional precautions as the Delta variant surges.
All of our providers have been fully vaccinated since wintertime, including Dr. Nina Olsen who was vaccinated during her pregnancy. We will continue to follow updates from ACOG and the CDC and update our own recommendations as more data is collected on the vaccines and their use by pregnant women.
Here are some more FAQ’s about the risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy from the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine. Learn more about our providers’ own experiences with the vaccine and its side effects in Dr. Vaughan’s blog post, “A Shot of Hope: My COVID-19 Vaccine Experience and FAQ’s.”