By Kelly Nicklas

Many unanswered questions remain about the new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, especially surrounding the health of pregnant individuals. The immunization creation process began in 2020 and distribution guidelines have varied across state lines. 

The mRNA vaccines are some of the first COVID immunizations that have been authorized for public distribution in America. Messenger RNA, suspended in lipids and stabilizers, instructs our immune cells to create a spike protein that is responsible for immune responses. The immune response that is triggered teaches the human body how to fight  COVID-19 particles. This mRNA vaccine is new, but the concept has been studied intensively by scientists for decades. 

The primary objective of the COVID-19 vaccines is to train the human body to develop antigens that provide defense against the virus. The Pfizer and Moderna shots are both classified as mRNA vaccines. Although they were not tested on pregnant people, the safety of the vaccines has been proven effective through clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people. 

Scientists have yet to conduct a full analysis of the effects of the vaccine on individuals during gestation, and overall, there is little information available about this from toxicology reports demonstrated on rats. However, health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) have all advised that the vaccination be offered to all eligible pregnant people. 

As of January 19, the World Health Organization (WHO) changed its outlook on whether or not pregnant individuals should trust the vaccine. Based on the available information on the safety of the immunization, WHO ruled that it is more beneficial for the maternal populace to take the vaccine rather than wait.  

Pregnant individuals and their unborn children face more severe health risks from COVID-19. While chances are slim, pregnant individuals who contract the virus face higher mechanical ventilation and ICU admission risks. Additionally, there is a possibility that the virus could cause abnormalities to the fetus, such as preterm birth. 

Scientists have not found any evidence that the vaccine creates potential threats for maternal individuals; there are presently no vaccines recommended to be avoided during pregnancy. Additionally, the immunity that is generated by the vaccine may be transferred from the carrier to their placentae. 

Medical professionals and vaccine distributors have stated that individuals preparing for labor should limit interactions and follow the safety guidelines to not risk contracting COVID near birth. Becoming infected with the virus poses a much greater risk than the vaccine, which has exhibited success thus far. Transmission of the virus from the mother to her unborn child is very unlikely, but a mother’s sickness could lead to premature birth. 

 

Some pregnant individuals have abstained from taking the vaccine when they are eligible. The lack of data concerning the long-term effects in these early stages of distribution has led many parents to decline the shot.  Scientists have made it clear that if someone’s COVID risk factor is low and they are following state guidelines, they can choose to wait to receive their shot.

There is also very little information about vaccination safety for parents who are currently breastfeeding. Experts don’t suspect that the vaccination harms those who are lactating, but studies have not been performed to confirm this. Regardless, as the makeup of the vaccine is not a dead or weakened strand of the virus, long-term consequences are highly unexpected.

Overall, the effects of the vaccination on pregnancy are not expected to differ from the general population. Recommendations from medical professionals, vaccine manufacturers, and health organizations all align: the threat of COVID-19 to a pregnant person currently outweighs any potential health risks concerning the vaccination. However, the decision ultimately comes down to the expecting parent and their doctor’s preference after careful evaluation of the available information regarding pregnancy and the vaccine.