Should pregnant women get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Many people struggle with the decision of whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine. That choice can be even tougher when the decision also affects an unborn baby.

Pregnant women and those wishing to become pregnant are full of questions. To provide answers, physicians like Kimberley Darey are doing their best to provide patients with the latest information.

Darey practices obstetrics and gynecology and is chief medical officer/vice president of medical affairs at Edward–Elmhurst Health, which has a location in Hinsdale. She said that while the COVID-19 vaccine only recently became available, vaccines are nothing new in the world of prenatal care. Pregnant women are routinely encouraged to get certain vaccines, including the flu shot, due to a heightened risk of serious illness during pregnancy.

"That's a basic standard of care," said Darey, for the protection of both the mother and her child. As with the flu, women who contract COVID-19 while pregnant also have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill.

"We've had several women who have been in the ICU. Women who were otherwise young and healthy," Darey said.

Due to increased risk among pregnant women, pregnancy is considered a high-risk condition, putting pregnant women higher on the list to get the vaccine, Darey said.

That knowledge played a part in statements by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that pregnant women should not be excluded from receiving the vaccine.

The fact that pregnant women were not specifically studied as part of either vaccine trial is a concern for some. A global clinical trial to study not only pregnant women, but their babies post-birth, aims to give women and doctors further clarity.

"We're really excited about that," Darey said.

Until then, Darey said she is confident in the vaccine's ability to protect pregnant women from a potentially life-threatening disease. While there are many unknowns, experts do know that women who are trying to become pregnant do not need to change their plans after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Although fertility has not been studied specifically, Darey said 15,000 women who were part of vaccine trials have since become pregnant.

"Plenty of women have gotten pregnant post vaccination," she said.

Standards of care have changed as scientists have continued to learn about the disease, and that uncertainty continues for those struggling with the choice of whether to be vaccinated.

"There's so much misinformation out there," said Darey.

The vaccine's 95 percent effectiveness is higher than many vaccines, she noted, and those who do contract the disease after being vaccinated are far less likely to suffer a severe case. Common side effects, including injection site pain and short-term fatigue, aren't believed to be any different for those who are pregnant.

"It is a personal choice, and no pregnant woman should ever feel bad about whatever decision they make," she said.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean