COVID-19: Pregnant Women are Safe to Vaccinate, Research Reports Say

With little or no data to inform pregnant women’s decisions about getting vaccinated against COVID-19, there have been raging concerns about the effect vaccines will have on them and their newborns.

As of March 28, 2021, the New York Times and  reported that over 541 million doses of COVID-19 have been administered. This, however, did not include the groups mentioned above.

But a report published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology has confirmed that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women, lactating mothers, and their offspring-new born.

What does this really mean and what are the findings?

The exercise conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard examined 131 women between December 17, 2020, to March 2, 2021. The study which had respondents comprising 84 pregnant, 31 lactating mothers, and 16 non-pregnant women said “these vaccines seem to work incredibly effectively in these women.”

One of the researchers, a professor of medicine at the Ragon Institute, Galit Alter, said “they found no evidence of more side effects or more intense side effects in pregnant and lactating women than in the general population.”

Professor Galit has been reported as saying those who took Moderna vaccine appear to have a higher level of IgA antibodies (an antibody that plays a crucial role in the immune function of mucous) in pregnant women who received the jabs.

This particular type of antibody, the report noted, transfers protective immunity to newborns through breast milk and the placenta. Experts say this study will fill in the information gap which hitherto existed especially for pregnant women who contracted COVID-19 or may want to take the jabs to protect themselves against the virus.

Vaccines, particularly Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which were examined do not pose risk to pregnant women, according to a study published on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings which were published in The New England Journal of Medicine noted that the over 35,000 participants, who had been pregnant when they received the vaccine or became pregnant shortly thereafter had little to no side effects.

Stephanie Gaw, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of California, San Francisco said the new data shows that “a lot of pregnant people are getting the vaccine, there isn’t a significant increase in adverse pregnancy effects at this point, and that side effect profiles are very similar to nonpregnant people.”

“I think that’s all very reassuring,” she said, adding that, “I think it will really help providers and public health officials more strongly recommend getting the vaccine in pregnancy.”

A week before this, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) in the United Kingdom gave the go-ahead for pregnant women to take the jabs of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna citing a study in the US that examined about 90,000 pregnant women.

“There is no evidence to suggest that other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women, but more research is needed,” it says.

COVID-19 Chair for the JCVI, Professor Wei Shen Lim said: “We encourage pregnant women to discuss the risks and benefits with their clinician – those at increased risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 are encouraged to promptly take up the offer of vaccination when offered.”

In November 2020, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in a report published by the Washington Post said twice the number of pregnant women die of COVID-19 infection as compared to women without pregnancy. The report added that the risk level of contracting COVID-19 among non-pregnant women is half the ratio among pregnant women.

These newly found pieces of evidence indicating pregnant are safe to take the vaccines will there prove extremely crucial in saving the lives of expectant mothers and even their unborn babies.

Commending the significance of the study, Galit Alter said there’s now enormous data to show that COVID vaccines have the potential to induce immunity that will protect infants.

“We hope this study will catalyze vaccine developers to recognize the importance of studying pregnant and lactating individuals, and include them in trials. The potential for rational vaccine design to drive improved outcomes for mothers and infants is limitless, but developers must realize that pregnancy is a distinct immunological state, where two lives can be saved simultaneously with a powerful vaccine. We look forward to studying all vaccine platforms in pregnancy as they become available.” Prof. Galit Alter, a core member of the Ragon Institute and co-senior author of the study, recounted.

The study concludes that data from this research showed that vaccinating a pregnant or a lactating mother performs a double function: protecting the mother and the yet-to-be delivered child or newborn.

This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.

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