Dispelling vaccine misinformation around pregnancy
There are plenty of things to avoid while pregnant, but vaccines aren’t among them. Misinformation on social media websites have made many mothers worried that being vaccinated against COVID-19 will be dangerous for their unborn baby. Actually, the opposite is true for both the mother and the baby, according to a new study.
A cohort study of close to 870,000 pregnant women released in August indicated that catching the virus dramatically increases the risks of death for the mother. Women in the study who had COVID at the time of delivery had a 15 times greater risk of dying while in the hospital than women who did not have the virus. They also had higher rates of admission to the intensive care unit and needed respiratory intubation and mechanical ventilation at significantly increased rates, which contributes to bad outcomes.
Additionally, the virus confers a much higher risk of pre-term birth, which puts the baby at risk for serious long-term health issues. It’s a message that has been difficult to get out to the public. As of July 31, only 23 percent of pregnant women in the country had received at least one dose of the vaccine according to CDC statistics.
“Every major OB/GYN organization along with the CDC and WHO are recommending vaccination because people who are pregnant are three times more likely to involve ICU care after COVID,” said Nisha David, MD, at Cape Obstetrics & Gynecology in Falmouth, Sandwich and Bourne.
“It’s similar to the way we recommend that people who are pregnant get a flu shot because you are immunosuppressed when you are pregnant and if you get the flu while you are pregnant you are more apt as well to have serious illness. It’s the same thing with COVID.”
That is especially true if the woman has other comorbidities like a high body mass index, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other cardiac or respiratory issues that also compromise their immune system. Additionally, Dr. David points out that minorities, like African American and Latinx women, already have higher risks of adverse outcomes in pregnancy, so they are disproportionally being affected when they are pregnant and get COVID-19.
“The thing we always tell people about vaccines is how much safer it is to get the vaccine than the actual illness,” she said. “So yes, there can be side effects with the vaccine but the chance of getting a side effect with a major complication is significantly less than what COVID would do to you. So, in that theme, it’s much safer to get the vaccine.”
If someone does have vaccine side effects, like a mild to moderate fever, Dr. David recommends that they take Tylenol, which is safe during pregnancy.
Another contribution to the risks concerning COVID and pregnancy is that a lot of pregnant women have other children at home. This has a two-fold risk. Children under 12 can’t get vaccinated yet, so pregnant moms who get vaccinated are also protecting their other children from illness since kids can get COVID. Plus, since all school-age children are back to in-person learning, they could also bring an infection home to their pregnant mother. Vaccination just makes everyone in the family safer.
Being vaccinated also protects women from serious illness, even if they get a case of breakthrough COVID-19 after the shots.
“Just in general, if you are vaccinated, you are less likely to get a severe illness from COVID, so that applies to pregnant people too,” Dr. David said. “You still have to take all the normal precautions like hand-washing and staying six feet apart and wearing masks, so you don’t get COVID, but it’s less likely you’ll be severely sick after vaccination and you are less likely to get those long-haul symptoms people talk about.”
Other Myths Dispelled
“There is no evidence that the vaccine is affecting miscarriage rates,” Dr. David said. “People were also worried that the vaccine would affect their ability to get pregnant in the first place. There was a lot of misinformation about the vaccine making people sterile. There is just misinformation about COVID in general.”
Since a certain cohort of women who were part of the vaccine trials received the vaccines before they knew they were pregnant, the CDC has come down decisively in favor of vaccination while pregnant. The CDC emphatically states that many vaccinated people have subsequently become pregnant, which also illustrates the falsity of the sterility myth.
The other bonus of getting vaccinated is that it is believed that the baby will also be protected from serious illness after it is born. The mother’s antibodies will pass on to the baby during pregnancy and nursing. It is similar to the reason obstetricians recommend that pregnant women get the Tdap vaccine to protect their babies from the dangers of pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria for the first two months of life until the baby can be vaccinated itself.