The COVID-19 vaccine: A pregnant doctor's perspective
"I'm pregnant. Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?"
It's the million-dollar question that obstetricians/gynecologists (Ob/Gyn) and certified nurse-midwives (CNM) are discussing with patients daily at Gundersen Health System.
But, what about the healthcare providers who are expecting? Are they choosing to be vaccinated during pregnancy?
Gundersen obstetrician/gynecologist and mother-to-be, Megan Heinlein, MD, did her research and concluded the vaccine is safer than the effects of COVID-19 on her and her unborn baby.
"I trust the greater scientific community," Dr. Heinlein says. "The leading professional societies in the field of obstetrics and gynecology have come out with statements emphasizing access to the COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant and lactating women, and the importance of decisions about the vaccine being made by patients and their healthcare providers."
This includes recommendations in support of the vaccine from:
COVID-19 can be dangerous for pregnant women
Pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely than non-pregnant women to have severe illness requiring ICU care and advanced life support, according to data from the CDC. Other risks to pregnant women with COVID-19 include preterm labor, intrauterine growth restriction (small babies), pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy) and elevated liver enzymes.
"We know there are long-term effects of COVID-19 on anyone who gets the virus. However, we don't know the long-term implications of COVID-19 on pregnancy or newborns born to mothers who were COVID-19 positive during pregnancy," she points out.
It's one of the reasons Dr. Heinlein—and her Ob/Gyn colleagues who are pregnant—have chosen to be vaccinated. "I'm protecting myself, my baby and my loved ones. I'm protecting my patients and the greater community. And, I'm contributing to science," Dr. Heinlein shares.
Safety data is limited
Because the COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been tested in pregnant women, questions remain about its safety.
"It's been a struggle to get pregnant women involved in any sort of vaccine or drug trial since the beginning of modern medicine," notes Dr. Heinlein, but these facts bring her peace of mind:
- Neither the Pfzier nor the Moderna vaccine contains any COVID-19 viral particles, which means there is no chance that a mother or her baby could get COVID-19 from the vaccine.
- Results of recent Developmental and Reproductive Toxicity (DART) studies in Europe indicate no harmful effects of the Pfzier or Moderna vaccine on female reproduction, pregnancy or embryo/fetal development. These animal studies provide the first safety data to help inform the use of the vaccine in pregnancy, and studies in people who are pregnant are planned.
Talk to your healthcare provider
If you're pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, the best thing to do is have a conversation with your healthcare provider. Consider your own personal risk of getting COVID-19 by asking questions, such as:
- Do I have frequent contact with people outside of my household?
- Do I work in a healthcare setting?
- Do I consistently wear a mask?
- Do I have underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart disease?
If you are at higher risk of getting COVID-19, it probably makes sense to get the vaccine. If you are at lower risk, you might wait for more information before getting the vaccine. Either way, continue to wear a mask, wash your hands frequently and socially distance for the best protection.
Extraordinary times, extraordinary decisions
Getting the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy isn't an easy decision, but it was the best decision for Dr. Heinlein.
"We cannot think of this as just any other day, any other vaccine. COVID-19 is not just the flu. More than 4,000 Americans are dying every day. We must do all we can to stop that from happening," she says.
Learn more about COVID-19 and pregnancy from Gundersen experts.