Are coronavirus vaccines safe for pregnant women?

As COVID-19 vaccinations begin across the U.S., there are still many unknowns about the vaccine -- including its effect during pregnancy.

The excitement surrounding a pregnancy is often coupled with anxiety that the developing fetus is safe and healthy. Add in a pandemic, and pregnant women today are facing unprecedented challenges.

Now, pregnant women have to weigh another tough decision: whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available to them.

"There is no data currently to establish the safety," said Stephanie Schauer, manager of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Division of Public Health's immunization program.

COVID-19 vaccine

Schauer said, since pregnant women were excluded from clinical trials, there is no indication one way or another what the impact could be.

"If a woman is pregnant and is part of a recommended group to be vaccinated, such as a health care personnel, she may choose, and that decision really should be made in consultation with her health care provider, to make an informed decision," Schauer said.

Schauer said some of the key considerations a patient should discuss with her doctor include: 

  • What is known about the vaccine
  • Lack of data on effects during pregnancy  
  • The likelihood she could be exposed to the virus
  • The potential risks of the virus to her and her fetus

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leaving the decision up to personal choice, but says on its website: "Based on how mRNA vaccines work, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a risk for people who are pregnant. mRNA vaccines do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19 and therefore cannot give someone COVID-19."

Meanwhile, Schauer says pregnant women are at increased risk of severe illness from the virus, including "ICU admission, undergoing mechanical ventilation and even death."

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Studies in pregnant animals are currently underway. The CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also have safety monitoring systems in place to capture information from people who get the vaccine and are either knowingly or unknowingly pregnant.

During an FDA advisory committee meeting on Thursday, at which the Moderna COVID-19 was recommended for emergency use authorization, experts urged women to delay pregnancy if they get vaccinated.

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