On 11 August 2021, the CDC strongly recommends the coronavirus vaccine for pregnant women to protect the health of the mother and the developing fetus. Despite the claims of COVID-19 deniers everywhere, the disease is dangerous and can cause both short- and long-term harm to anyone, and that means pregnant persons and their newborn babies. That’s why the COVID-19 vaccine is so important.
The CDC’s recommendation is:
COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people aged 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future. Pregnant and recently pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from severe illness from COVID-19.
Unfortunately, recent data from the CDC shows that coronavirus vaccine uptake by pregnant women has lagged badly in the USA. There are a lot of reasons for this, as you might guess.
Let’s take a look at what the CDC is stating and why pregnant persons should get the coronavirus vaccine.
Why is the CDC making this recommendation?
There are several reasons that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are making this recommendation:
- Pregnant and recently pregnant people are at higher risk of serious illness when compared to non-pregnant people. Severe illness includes illness that requires hospitalization, intensive care, need for a ventilator or special equipment to breathe, or illness that results in death. Additionally, pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk of preterm birth and might be at increased risk of other adverse pregnancy outcomes, compared with pregnant women without COVID-19.
- The coronavirus vaccine has been shown to be safe for pregnant women.
- As we have written several times, the COVID-19 vaccines, specifically the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, have no effect on fertility and do not modify the DNA of the mother and fetus.
In other words, the benefit to risk analyses of the coronavirus vaccine is far on the side of benefits to pregnant women. It’s not even close.
And the CDC also strongly recommends the coronavirus vaccine for breastfeeding mothers. The vaccines are not transmitted through the breastmilk, but the antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 can pass into the breastmilk helping the infant resist the disease.
Again, like with pregnant women, the coronavirus vaccine has strong benefits to persons who are breastfeeding their infants.
The CDC recommendation was based on a study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 21 April 2021. The researchers used data compiled from 14 December 2020 through 28 February 2021 using data from the “v-safe after vaccination health checker” online surveillance system, the v-safe pregnancy registry, and the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) to study the initial safety of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna during pregnancy.
A total of 35,691 v-safe participants, age 16-54, were identified as pregnant. The researchers found that injection site pain was reported more frequently among pregnant individuals than nonpregnant persons. Headache, myalgia, chills, and fever were reported less frequently among pregnant women who received the vaccine.
Among the 3958 participants enrolled in the v-safe pregnancy registry:
- 827 had a completed pregnancy.
- 104 of those (12.6%) had a pregnancy loss The published incidence of spontaneous abortion, irrespective of vaccination status, is between 10-26%,
- Among live-birth infants, 9.4% were preterm (compared to published 8-15% incidence), 3.2% were small size for gestational age (compared to published 3.5% incidence), and 2.2% had congenital anomalies (compared to a published 3% incidence).
The researchers also examined 221 VAERS reports that involved COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy:
- 155 (70.1%) involved non-pregnancy-specific adverse events.
- 66 (29.9%) involved pregnant-or neonatal-specific adverse events.
I know that this is often lost on some people, but dumpster diving into the VAERS database can’t tell us much beyond very large safety signals. Also, these numbers do not represent every pregnancy where the COVID-19 vaccine was given, so the percentages don’t represent anything useful.
As it says on the VAERS website:
When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.
In other words, VAERS has only marginal usefulness to this analysis, yet it still doesn’t provide any safety signals for receiving the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy.
The dangers of COVID-19 during pregnancy indicate that getting the vaccine is one of the most important things that can be done to protect the pregnant person and their developing baby. Knowing that the vaccine is extremely safe during pregnancy should help anyone on the fence to feel comfortable that they are doing the right thing for themselves and their baby.
We have to continue providing accurate information about this vaccine’s safety to counteract the various myths and tropes about the new COVID-19 vaccines. Furthermore, public health officials need to do a better job to reach out to communities of color to improve their vaccination rates.
- Shimabukuro TT, Kim SY, Myers TR, Moro PL, Oduyebo T, Panagiotakopoulos L, Marquez PL, Olson CK, Liu R, Chang KT, Ellington SR, Burkel VK, Smoots AN, Green CJ, Licata C, Zhang BC, Alimchandani M, Mba-Jonas A, Martin SW, Gee JM, Meaney-Delman DM; CDC v-safe COVID-19 Pregnancy Registry Team. Preliminary Findings of mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine Safety in Pregnant Persons. N Engl J Med. 2021 Apr 21. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2104983. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33882218.