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New Studies Confirm COVID-19 Vaccines Are Safe for Pregnant People

newborn baby with mother

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Key Takeaways

  • The CDC recommends that pregnant people get vaccinated against COVID-19 based on new safety data.
  • Experts say the vaccine will not harm a pregnant person or unborn baby. The vaccine's antibodies could be passed on to the baby during pregnancy or through breastfeeding.
  • People who are pregnant are in an immunocompromised state, making them more vulnerable to severe illness from the COVID-19 virus.

When Whitney Schulte received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in January, she got a few stares. Schulte was 25 weeks pregnant at the time, and there was mixed messaging around how the COVID-19 vaccines could affect her and her unborn baby.

Her OB-GYN told her that it would be a “personal decision” to get the vaccine because not a lot of data was available. “We just made the decision to take a chance on the vaccine,” Schulte tells Verywell.

Schulte was fully vaccinated by February and she gave birth to a healthy baby girl in May.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on August 11 released new guidance recommending people who are pregnant to get the vaccine, affirming Schulte’s decision.

People who are pregnant, lactating, or planning pregnancy, tolerate the COVID-19 vaccines at similar rates to the general population, according to a new study in the Journal of American Medicine.

Lorene Temming, MD, MSCI, an OB-GYN and lead physician for Atrium Health’s labor and delivery coronavirus response, says that growing data on the vaccine’s safety for pregnant people, combined with fear of the Delta variant, may have motivated the CDC to issue the new recommendation. 

She adds that providers like herself, who work directly with pregnant people, have been advocating that their pregnant patients seek out vaccinations for months now.

“Even back in December when vaccines were first coming out, most experts agreed that pregnant women probably should be vaccinated,” Temming tells Verywell.

The lack of data early on was largely because pregnant people were excluded from the clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccines, she adds, and it may have contributed to the misconception that this population was excluded because the vaccines were dangerous to them. 

In reality, it is convention to exclude pregnant women and children from these types of trials, Temming explains.

The CDC now monitors the health outcomes of over 148,000 vaccinated pregnant people in their v-safe COVID-19 Vaccine Pregnancy Registry. The agency has found that the vaccine does not produce greater side effects in pregnant individuals than in the general population.

Research also suggests that the spike proteins in mRNA vaccines are too large to penetrate the placenta, meaning that the vaccines cannot harm the unborn baby, Temming says. On the flip side, antibodies from the vaccine can transfer to the baby through the body and through breastfeeding, she adds.

There is less research on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s effect on people who are pregnant. However, other vaccines that use the same viral vector technology have been safe for patients who are pregnant, Temming says.

While some people are concerned about potential complications from the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, such as rare blood clots, Temming says the risk is not high enough to dissuade a pregnant person from seeking out the single-dose vaccine.

For people who are worried about complications and have access to all three vaccines, they should seek out an mRNA vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna, she adds.

Any vaccine is better than none, she says, especially because pregnancy puts a person in an immunocompromised state. CDC data highlighted that COVID-19 patients who were pregnant were much more vulnerable to hospitalizations and increased risk of death.

"Our bodies have to have to tolerate a foreigner, so to speak, for nine months and that's in the form of our child,” Temming says. “We have seen for a long time that respiratory illness viruses like the flu are more dangerous in pregnant women, so it's not surprising that that remains true with COVID."

Schulte says there have been many misconceptions and changing ideas about how to stay healthy during pregnancy—even before the pandemic. Sometimes people can “go down the rabbit hole” trying to make sure they are doing everything right, she adds.

“At some point, you have to trust experts,” Schulte says. “I want to make sure that I'm safe and healthy, and I think that was a big contributing factor to me getting the vaccine. I was trusting the fact that the scientists know what they're doing, and that it's going to protect me from having complications.”

Schulte’s baby girl will be three months old this week.

What This Means For You

If you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting vaccinated can offer significant protection for you and your baby.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Kachikis A, Englund JA, Singleton M, Covelli I, Drake AL, Eckert LO. Short-term reactions among pregnant and lactating individuals in the first wave of the covid-19 vaccine rolloutJAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(8):e2121310. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.21310

  2. Shimabukuro TT, Kim SY, Myers TR, et al. Preliminary findings of mrna covid-19 vaccine safety in pregnant personsNew England Journal of Medicine. 2021;384(24):2273-2282. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2104983