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COVID-19 Vaccines Using mRNA Appear Safe and Effective in Pregnant People
- Preliminary data finds there appears to be no increased risk of major pregnancy complications in people who’ve received the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.
- Researchers said there was no increased risk of preterm birth, low-birth weight, miscarriage, or neonatal death in infants born to people who had mRNA vaccines.
- Experts say that pregnant people should be vaccinated due to the high risk of complications from COVID-19.
As COVID-19 vaccine campaigns roll out across the country, many pregnant people have approached their doctors with questions and concerns about vaccine safety.
A new report published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) may help address some of these questions and concerns.
According to preliminary data from the v-safe COVID-19 Vaccine Pregnancy Registry, there appears to be no increased risk of preterm birth, low-birth weight, miscarriage, or neonatal death in infants born to people who’ve received the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.
“I think that this is a very reassuring study,” Dr. Eran Bornstein, the director of the Center for Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, New York, told Healthline.
“In the adverse outcomes that they looked at, there was no signal to show an increased risk compared to historical controls. There was no signal of an abnormal outcome that stands out compared to what is expected in pregnancy,” he said.
Addressing pressing questions
The NEJM report shares preliminary findings from an observational study, rather than the results of a randomized control trial.
According to Bornstein, it’s unusual for a leading medical journal like the NEJM to publish preliminary observational findings.
However, he thinks it’s important to share these data at a time when many pregnant people have questions about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s important for women to know that the risks of these vaccines appear to be low compared to the benefits, which are very high,” Bornstein said.
He expects more long-term research and controlled studies to be published in the future. Future studies may also provide more data on the safety of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in pregnancy, which was not addressed in the NEJM study.
Risk of COVID-19 in pregnancy
While the risks of COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy appear to be low, the potential benefits are high, said Dr. Ellie Ragsdale, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist at UH Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio.
“I think all healthcare providers understand the [vaccine] hesitancy that patients have,” Ragsdale told Healthline.
“But we know that COVID is extremely dangerous, especially in pregnant women and postpartum women, and we have yet to see any risk of danger from any of the three accepted vaccines on the market for pregnant women,” she continued.
Ragsdale has been caring for pregnant people with COVID-19 for more than a year and has seen the “devastation” the disease can cause.
Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that pregnant women are more likely than non-pregnant women to be admitted to an intensive care unit for COVID-19. They are also more likely to be ventilated for the disease and more likely to die from it.
Surveillance data from the CDC and findings from a review of research published in 2020 have found an increased risk of preterm births among pregnant women with COVID-19 as well.
Getting vaccinated not only lowers the risk of contracting the virus, it also reduces the severity of COVID-19 in people who develop it.
Reducing the risks of COVID-19
Bornstein and Ragsdale have been encouraging their pregnant patients to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
So has Dr. Jennifer Thompson, an obstetrician-gynecologist and associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
“One of the most important things that I want my patients to understand is that based on the information we have, we know pregnancy increases their risk of more severe COVID,” she said.
“And that risk is increased further if they have other co-morbid conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, or a little bit older age,” she continued.
Thompson encourages people who are pregnant to speak with their pregnancy care providers about the risk of COVID-19, as well as the potential benefits and risks of vaccination.
“I think it’s also important to consider what your COVID exposure risk is,” she said. “We know that COVID is still very prevalent and that the number of people being diagnosed on a regular basis is still significant,” she added.
Support for vaccine access
While efforts to distribute the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines continue across the country, the CDC has currently paused the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, due to rare reports of blood clots in the brain.
Six cases of brain blood clots have been reported among 7.5 million people who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is scheduled to meet today to decide whether to resume vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson product.
In the meantime, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has advised doctors to “encourage pregnant and postpartum women who wish to be vaccinated to receive the mRNA vaccines: Pfizer or Moderna.”
The ACOG, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and American Society for Reproductive Medicine have all recommended that pregnant people be given access to COVID-19 vaccines.