What pregnant women should know about the COVID-19 vaccine
UCLA Health OB/GYN experts address concerns.
Note: This article was updated Oct. 8, 2021, with the newest information avaialable.
A vaccine is clearly the most promising strategy for combating COVID-19 for the general population. But there’s less clarity about the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women. Since pregnant women were not included in the COVID-19 vaccine trials, there is no data on the safety of the vaccine for this population.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe for pregnant women. Many types of vaccines have been safely given to pregnant and lactating individuals for decades. So, the big question remains: Is it safe for pregnant women to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
The recommendation is that women and their health care provider should weigh the benefits and risks together. When making a decision about a vaccine, there are a few things to consider: the availability of safety data on the vaccine, the risks of getting COVID-19 while pregnant, and a woman’s individual health risk (such as having an underlying medical condition) for developing severe disease.
In the below Q&A, UCLA Health OB/GYN experts address some of the most pressing questions related to pregnancy and the vaccine:
Q: I’m pregnant, should I get a vaccine?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), the two leading organizations representing specialists in obstetric care, recommend that all pregnant individuals be vaccinated against COVID-19. UCLA Health also stands by this statement from the ACOG and SMFM regarding existing data and in response to the CDC health advisory. Ultimately, it’s a decision that is best made in collaboration with a health care professional who knows your personal medical history.
Q: What are the benefits to getting a vaccine?
A vaccine can help protect you from getting COVID-19 with roughly 95% efficacy. You must get both doses of the vaccine for it to be fully effective. In addition, when pregnant people receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy, their bodies build antibodies against COVID-19, similar to non-pregnant people. Antibodies made after a pregnant person received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine have been found in umbilical cord blood. This means COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy might help protect babies against COVID-19. At this time, vaccinated people still need to wear masks and practice hand-washing hygiene and social distancing.
Q: What are the risks of getting a vaccine?
COVID-19 vaccination is the best method to reduce maternal and fetal complications of COVID-19 infection among pregnant people. ACOG is recommending vaccination of pregnant individuals because there is evidence of the safe and effective use of the vaccine during pregnancy from many tens of thousands of reporting individuals. Additional clinical trials that study the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and how well they work in pregnant people are underway or planned. Vaccine manufacturers are also collecting and reviewing data from people in the completed clinical trials who received a vaccine and became pregnant.
Q: If I get a vaccine while I’m pregnant, is there a way to be safely monitored?
If you are pregnant and have received a COVID-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with other federal partners, will monitor you for serious side effects using existing vaccine safety monitoring systems. You can participate in this effort by enrolling in the V-safe After Vaccination Health Checker. This program will check in daily for one week following your vaccination. You can also report any side effects or concerns you might have.
Q: What are the risks of getting COVID-19 while pregnant?
Data have shown that COVID-19 infection puts pregnant people at increased risk of severe complications and even death. There has been a significant increase in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant. Recent data show that more than 95% of those who are hospitalized and/or dying from COVID-19 have remained unvaccinated. Compared with those who aren’t pregnant, COVID-19-infected pregnant people are:
- 3 times more likely to need ICU care
- 2 to 3 times more likely to need advanced life support and a breathing tube
- Have a small increased risk of dying due to COVID-19
Q: I’m currently breastfeeding, should I get a vaccine?
COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people age 12 and older, including people who are breastfeeding. COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause infection in anyone, including the mother or the baby, and the vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 in people who are breastfeeding. Recent reports show that breastfeeding people who have received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which could help protect their babies. You do not have to delay or stop breastfeeding just because you get a vaccine.
Q: I’m thinking about getting pregnant soon, should I wait?
COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for everyone age 12 and older, including people who are trying to get pregnant now or might become pregnant in the future, as well as their partners. There is no reason that individuals who are trying to conceive or are undergoing fertility treatment should withhold from receiving a vaccine. Since these are not live vaccines, there is no reason to delay trying to get pregnant or delaying fertility treatment because of your vaccination schedule.
Q: What are side effects of a vaccine?
Side effects after vaccination are mild and often produce a normal bodily response to the vaccine and the development of antibodies to protect against the disease. Side effects often occur in the first few days after receiving a vaccine, and that is true for both the first and second dose. If pregnant people experience fever after vaccination, acetaminophen is recommended.
Q: Where can I go for additional up-to-date information?
These three sites contain trusted, evidence-based, curated information for pregnant and lactating individuals:
- Centers for Disease Control
- Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists