Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for pregnant women?

BOSTON — As pregnant women become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination plan, which begins on Feb. 1, expectant mothers are concerned about the safety of the vaccine.

Most pregnant women will be eligible toward the end of the second phase, with those who have additional health risks eligible sooner.

Currently, there is limited data on the effects and safety of the mRNA vaccine on pregnant women.

“It’s a new vaccine, which makes it very difficult for all of us,” said Dr. Ilona Goldfarb, who works in Massachusetts General Hospital’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine Division and is the COVID-19 lead for the obstetrics and gynecology department. “We have to be very honest that the patients that are pregnant were not included in the studies. So, we don’t know. We have to extrapolate.”

The vaccine is very safe in women who are not pregnant, Goldfarb said, and generally vaccines that do not contain the live virus are widely considered to be safe in prenatal care.

The decision to get vaccinated is a personal one that should be made in consultation with a doctor, Goldfarb said.

“I think it’s important to recognize that while COVID-19 is dangerous potentially for everyone, we know from literature that pregnancy poses an added risk,” Goldfarb said.

While most pregnant women with COVID-19 experience mild to moderate symptoms – if any – research shows they are more likely to experience severe COVID-19 illness than non-pregnant women of reproductive age, Goldfarb said. Severe complications include the need for supplemental oxygen, intensive care admission, mechanical ventilation and death.

Expectant moms weighing the risks and benefits of the vaccine should consider additional risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and other medical issues, Goldfarb said.

Those who have more potential exposure to the virus – whether at work or at home with family – may also want to consider getting the vaccine, Goldfarb said.

Goldfarb’s patient, Emily Humphreys, a local optometrist, was recently vaccinated for COVID-19, as she was eligible in Phase 1 as a healthcare worker.

“I felt that the health of me and my baby and my family, it was just a very important decision to make,” Humphreys said. “And it was not made without a great deal of thought.”

Humphreys, due in July with her first child, said the daily risk of exposure at her job was a major consideration.

“I am about as close to one’s face as you can get for a lot of my job,” Humphreys said. “I do wear full [personal protective gear] with masks and goggles, but at the same time, the risk is always there when I’m at work.”

Humphreys received her first Moderna dose in the middle of her first trimester, and last week, she received the second and final shot.

“I had very, very minimal side effects after the vaccine,” Humphreys said. “And that compared to what I could’ve experienced if I would’ve gotten COVID made it worth it to me.”

For women trying to get pregnant, Goldfarb urges them to get the vaccine, assuring them there is no evidence of miscarriage or fertility issues. She also encourages women who are breastfeeding to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“It’s very unlikely that any components of the vaccine will make it into the breastmilk,” Goldfarb said. “And even if any components do get into the breastmilk, the baby’s immune system will metabolize it.”

Goldfarb has an estimated ten to twenty daily conversations about vaccine safety in pregnancy. While she is comfortable with her patients being vaccinated, she also understands the sentiment of those who choose not to.

“We have to be able to sit with that uncertainty, if we’re going to go with the vaccine,” Goldfarb said. “And some patients don’t want to accept that. And we totally understand that. And for them we say, ‘For you, maybe it’s best that we wait until the post-partum period. Or wait until another vaccine coming down the pike is more similar to other vaccines we are used to.”

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