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COVID-19 Vaccine Effects On Pregnancy

Published on 03/31/21

There is no question about it. A woman’s time of pregnancy is one of the most anxious and worrisome times in her life. This is mostly because there are so many unknowns when it comes to motherhood that every day can bring new worries about potential or irreparable harm done during the pregnancy. When it comes to a conversation about the COVID-19 vaccine’s effects on pregnancy, there are some things that doctors and researchers know, and there some things that they are not sure about just yet.

What do we know about the COVID-19’s effect on pregnancy?

For one, we know that the time of pregnancy for a woman is also a time of a lowered immune system. Pregnancy has proven to suppress and alter the immune system depending on what the best conditions should be for implantation. A suppressed immune system can lead to a higher risk of general sickness. 

In addition to knowing what causes the weakened immune state of pregnancy, we also know that women are more susceptible to COVID-19 when they are pregnant, along with being more susceptible to other severe diseases. 

What we also know about COVID-19 itself, is that it is dangerous to the woman’s fetus and to pregnancy. In some cases, it can lead to preterm deliveries and pregnancy loss, and even the loss of the mother. And while all of these symptoms and effects have been seen from cases of COVID-19, they have simply just not been seen as a result of the vaccine.

Where is the data?

One of the main reasons that the data on this matter is difficult to come by is because people that are pregnant or breastfeeding are typically barred from being able to participate in clinical trials. However, there was still another way to gather this data. 

The first people who received the COVID-19 vaccine were mainly healthcare providers, like doctors and nurses, because they were the ones being exposed to the most COVID-19 cases and had the most experience with the effects of the disease. Because of that, researchers were able to collect data and see the effects of the vaccine on any doctors or nurses that were either pregnant or were conceiving around the time of receiving the vaccinations. 

And there’s good news, too! The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) vaccine advisory board just released the first set of data on pregnant women that have received the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine. The study showed no increased risk of fetal malformations, preterm deliveries, miscarriages, or other safety risks to pregnancy.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine affect pregnancy?

The vaccinations that doctors worry about in women that are conceiving or in women that are pregnant are live virus vaccines. There is nothing live in any of the three vaccine candidates that have been currently approved. This means that there is no biological factor or reason that will directly cause issues to pregnancy, like infertility. 

The three vaccines that have been currently approved are mRNA vaccines. Basically, the vaccines are communicating with your body using the messaging system of RNA to create antibodies specifically targeted to combat the COVID-19 virus. 

What doctors and researchers want patients to know is that the mRNA vaccines used for COVID-19 are different from the typical, live vaccines we’ve had before. Live vaccines will introduce a non-active, or a weakened form of a virus, that will trigger your body’s immune response. Even live vaccinations do not cause the disease to occur. It doesn’t even introduce large quantities of antigens. Instead, it actually provides the information necessary for your body to produce the antigens that will fight and prevent the virus.

This is rather different from the mRNA vaccines being offered. This new type of vaccine doesn’t necessarily interact with your body’s immune system immediately. It will interact with information that has come from your DNA, not the DNA itself.

Your DNA is copied, or transcribed, by messenger RNA. As this messenger chain of information travels it can be susceptible to a virus that may insert its own information to help it grow and overtake your body. 

In the case of the COVID-19 virus, it uses a spike protein to break into your cells. This spike protein itself is not harmful, which is what the mRNA vaccine utilizes for protection. The vaccine will provide the information for your cell to create its own spike protein that it can learn from, in order to combat the spike proteins that are present on the COVID-19 virus. 

The mRNA vaccine will not alter your DNA. It sort of captures an image and then it is destroyed within your cell, often within a few minutes. Your body will use this information to combat the spike proteins that COVID-19 uses to break into your body’s cells to spread virally. 

Now that the details have been covered, all this really means is that the vaccine will cause a very controlled and specific reaction in your body. This reaction will not interfere with fertility, pregnancy, or any other biological issue because it operates more with your biomolecules.

How does this affect breastfeeding?

Researchers and doctors have observed that the vaccinations will not typically pass large quantities of antibodies to the baby through breast milk. In certain cases where this does happen, it actually is a favorable condition. It makes sense if the mother needs to develop antibodies to fight the COVID-19 virus, then passing these along to the child will only increase immunity to the virus. This was part of the intention and hope in the design of the mRNA vaccines: to function like other vaccines in the past by being able to auto-immunize the baby by the mom’s own immunity.

Should you get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The short answer is: the decision is ultimately yours. The truth is that the theoretical risks of the vaccine do not outweigh the known risks of COVID-19. There are higher chances of suffering severe consequences, or death, from COVID-19 than there are from receiving the vaccine. 

Healthcare providers have been strongly advocating that there are no biological factors that would directly cause any detrimental issues to women that are pregnant or breastfeeding. The support is due mainly to the increased health risks that the COVID-19 virus presents to the mother.

How can I learn more about what is best for my situation?

If you are still concerned about how the vaccine works, continue to consult with your doctor and professionals in addition to researching more for yourself so that you may be able to communicate with your healthcare provider more clearly. 

Feel free to contact Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine with any of your questions related to gynecological services you may be seeking or for general concerns about your health and wellness. 

Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine provides a full range of services including family planning, birth control, and annual exams. The team at Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine are experts equipped to deal with high-risk issues and complex care. To learn more about our services and providers schedule an appointment so that we can help you overcome and understand what you may be going through. You can even book a video consultation with us here.