Get vaccinated – that’s the message urgently being sent out from the CDC this week to all pregnant people who haven’t had their COVID-19 shots yet. Despite COVID-19 hitting harder and increasing the risk of many complications during pregnancy, the agency is concerned that less than one-third of pregnant people have taken up the vaccination so far, risking both their own health and that of their offspring.
Despite the evidence overwhelmingly supporting the idea that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and beneficial during pregnancy, there is still plenty of scary misinformation out there. It’s understandable that you might avoid getting a shot that you think will cause a miscarriage or leave you infertile – but neither of those outcomes is caused by the vaccine.
“We now have sufficient data to say that COVID-19 vaccinations are safe to be given during pregnancy,” explains OB/GYN Danielle Jones. “And people who are pregnant and get vaccinated have better outcomes if they contract COVID-19 during the pregnancy than people … are not vaccinated.”
“Please, please, please get vaccinated,” she added. “Even if you are pregnant.”
The new recommendation from the CDC is addressed to anybody who is “pregnant, recently pregnant (including those who are lactating), who are trying to become pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the future.” These populations, if infected with COVID-19, are more likely to get a severe version of the disease, leading to higher rates of hospitalization and worse outcomes.
It’s not a small increase either: “Although the absolute risk is low, compared with non-pregnant symptomatic people, symptomatic pregnant people have more than a two-fold increased risk of requiring ICU admission, invasive ventilation, and ECMO [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or life support], and a 70 [percent] increased risk of death,” notes the CDC. There have been more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pregnant people so far, with 22,000 hospitalizations and 161 deaths – 22 of those deaths, they point out, occurred in August 2021 alone.
And the risks of foregoing vaccination aren’t just limited to the parent. While the overall rates of stillbirth and premature delivery remain low even among the unvaccinated, they “may be increased in women who have the infection around the time of birth,” Professor Asma Kahlil, co-author of a study from earlier this year that analyzed maternal and perinatal outcomes for people with a COVID-19 infection, told the BBC. Getting vaccinated, she advises, “reduces the risk not just to [pregnant people], but also to their babies.”
Not only that but there’s even some evidence that vaccination can help protect babies and fetuses. According to one recent study, babies of vaccinated people were born with higher levels of COVID-19-fighting antibodies in their blood. These antibodies have also been found in the breastmilk of vaccinated individuals, potentially providing ongoing protection even after birth.
“Pregnancy can be both a special time and also a stressful time – and pregnancy during a pandemic is an added concern for families,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “I strongly encourage those who are pregnant or considering pregnancy to talk with their healthcare provider about the protective benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine to keep their babies and themselves safe.”