Healthy Living: Should pregnant women get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Oregon Medical Group OBGYN Dr. Melanie Konradi has begun receiving questions from female health care workers who are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine and are pregnant but doesn't have many answers.

Posted: Dec 30, 2020 2:32 PM
Updated: Jan 6, 2021 10:07 AM

EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon Medical Group OBGYN Dr. Melanie Konradi has begun receiving questions from health care workers who are pregnant and have been offered the coronavirus vaccine, but she doesn't have many answers.

"We're working in an information vacuum," she said. 

According to Konradi, vaccines and medicines aren't tested on pregnant women during clinical trials, and health care workers rely on experience in the field to guide their recommendations. With vaccine distribution still just getting underway, there isn't much safety data available.

"Based on experience with previous vaccinations and what we know about the science of this vaccine, it's probably safe. When it really comes down to it, I'm recommending it," said Konradi.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, meaning they don't contain live virus or virus particles. According to Konradi, that theoretically means they should not impact the fetus the way live vaccinations like MMR and chickenpox shots can.

"Based on the paradigm by which RNA is used to create proteins, this does not get into the nucleus, it does not change the fetal DNA, it cannot cause fetal cancer or fetal defects," she said.

Pregnant women may still experience side effects that are normal and expected with the COVID-19 vaccines, like possible fever, soreness or fatigue.

The data limitations mean that pregnant women need to weigh the risks of possibly unknown factors to the known risks of potentially getting the virus while pregnant. 

"Pregnant women have about 1.5 times the risk of needing ICU admission and about 1.7 times the risk of their peers of needing mechanical ventilation," said Konradi.

The CDC doesn't recommend against pregnant women getting the vaccine but says that for those who are offered the shot, it's a personal choice.

Konradi agrees that pregnant individuals must decide for themselves if the vaccine is right for them, but health care providers can help them weigh the risks.

"I can encourage people to get the vaccine. I can talk to them about the pros and cons. Ultimately they need to make that decision and feel comfortable with it," she said.

According to the CDC, studies in people who are pregnant are planned, and both vaccine manufacturers are monitoring people in the clinical trials who became pregnant. 

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