Guide to Good Health: Pregnancy & COVID-19 Vaccines: What You Need To Know

The COVID-19 vaccines and associated booster shots currently authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are strongly recommended for pregnant and lactating women, as well as those trying or intending to become pregnant.

There are two levels to this, according to Dr. Michelle L. Harvison, Chair of Obstetrics/Gynecology for St. Clair Health who practices with Advanced Women’s Care. The first is at the individual level—for both mother and child.

“We know at this point in the pandemic that pregnant women are at an increased risk of adverse side effects during pregnancy when they get the coronavirus,” she says. “The main thing is really understanding just how serious that elevated risk can be. Adverse outcomes include a significantly higher risk of the following: miscarriage, preeclampsia, preterm delivery, cesarean delivery, thromboembolism, admission to the intensive care unit, stillbirth, and maternal death.”

The second level is about helping to protect your loved ones and your community.

“Looking at the betterment of society as a whole, it is undeniable that those who are vaccinated are both less likely to get the virus and less likely to perpetuate the pandemic,” says Dr. Harvison.

Data strongly indicates that the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the potential side effects for those who are pregnant or might become pregnant in the future.

“We have given the vaccines to thousands of women trying to get pregnant, as well as women who are currently pregnant and breastfeeding, and we have found no significant adverse events that would warrant a reason to not receive the vaccine,” Dr. Harvison says.

Because the virus and its variants remain prevalent, Dr. Harvison recommends getting the vaccine as soon as possible.

“There’s definitely no benefit to waiting,” she says. “At any point in pregnancy, the vaccine is considered safe and effective at preventing severe side effects and death. So, the sooner, the better.”

For women who remain apprehensive and choose to wait, benefits still exist when getting vaccinated in the postpartum period. “Number one: because women continue to be at that increased risk of coronavirus complications immediately after giving birth. And number two: when breastfeeding, that immunity does transfer to the baby and help protect the baby during this time as well,” Dr. Harvison says.

The biggest myth about the vaccine related to pregnancy that Dr. Harvison would like to debunk is that it causes infertility.

“There is no truth to that,” she adds emphatically.

One concern some women—not those who are expecting—have had is experiencing irregularities with their periods right after receiving the COVID vaccine. “Many women are concerned about this,” says Dr. Harvison. “It is transient and resolves on its own.”

If you have already received your primary series of the vaccine, Dr. Harvison urges you to get the booster shot.

“We are seeing the effects of the vaccine start to wane at that six- and seven-month mark after initial vaccinations. So it’s definitely helpful to get the booster,” she says.

Additionally, if you previously had COVID and recovered, it remains highly beneficial to get the vaccine and/or the booster shot.

“This is something that’s been tested and followed significantly more recently,” Dr. Harvison says. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) VISION Project research has compared patients who recovered from COVID to people who are vaccinated. The vaccine is, of course, a safer way to acquire immunity and also seems to protect longer and better. So even people who have had COVID still benefit from getting the vaccine.”

By Daniel Casciato