COVID-19 Q&A: Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and the COVID-19 Vaccine

Pregnancy is considered a high-risk health category during COVID-19. You may have questions or concerns about the safety of the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding and we are here to help.

University of Vermont Medical Center experts Marjorie Meyer, MD, division chief of maternal fetal medicine and Kristen Pierce, MD, infectious disease physician, discuss pregnancy, breastfeeding and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No, you cannot get COVID-19 from any of the vaccines that are currently available or are close to being released under the emergency-use authorization. – Dr. Kristen Pierce

Are there groups of people for whom the COVID-19 vaccine would not be appropriate?

If someone has had a severe allergic reaction to any of the components of the current vaccines, it is recommended that they talk to their provider before getting the vaccine. – Dr. Kristen Pierce

What side effects can people expect from the vaccine?

Some people have no side effects, and others experience fever, fatigue, muscle aches, joint aches and pain at the injection site. Side effects seem to be more pronounced after the second vaccine, but they don’t last long.

I would ask people to think about the fact that since the vaccines have been introduced, we have seen a decrease in deaths, hospitalization and severe cases of COVID-19. It’s important to balance the benefits against a day or two of feeling pretty crummy.  – Dr. Kristen Pierce

Why are people who are pregnant considered high risk for COVID-19?

On September 30, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an urgent health advisory to increase COVID-19 vaccination among people who are pregnant, recently pregnant (including those who are lactating), who are trying to become pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the future to prevent serious illness, deaths, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

The CDC health advisory strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccination either before or during pregnancy because the benefits of vaccination for both pregnant persons and their fetus or infant outweigh known or potential risks. Additionally, the advisory calls on health departments and clinicians to educate pregnant people on the benefits of vaccination and the safety of recommended vaccines.

Additionally, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding be offered the vaccine to prevent serious illness.

Do pregnant people typically get vaccines?

There are some vaccines that are given during pregnancy and others that aren’t. The pertussis vaccine, for example, is offered to pregnant women around 28 to 29 weeks gestation; as a result, incidents of whooping cough in young children have dropped by about 50 percent.

Vaccines are often used during pregnancy to try and help antibodies crossover to the placenta to reduce the risk of infection for the baby. However, we don’t yet know if that is the case with the COVID-19 vaccine. – Dr. Marjorie Meyer

Should pregnant people get the vaccine? If so, is there a certain time during pregnancy they should or should not get it?

All pregnant people should be offered the vaccine. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine both feel that pregnant people are more likely to derive benefit from the vaccine than any potential harm. As of March 2021, the vaccine has been administered to over 30,000 pregnant people without evidence of increased reaction or pregnancy complication.

Pregnant people were excluded from enrolling in the vaccine trials, but the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists and the Society of Maternal Fetal Medicine’s position is that the risk from COVID vaccination is only theoretical, whereas we know that COVID disease can harm a pregnancy.

If people are particularly concerned and feel that they can remain safe through the first trimester, we would support their decision to wait until they’re out of the first trimester. – Dr. Marjorie Meyer

Should a person who is pregnant but already had COVID-19 get the vaccine?

Yes. If you’ve previously had COVID-19, you should still consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine. – Dr. Marjorie Meyer

If a pregnant person gets the vaccine, how would they reduce their risk of side effects, such as fever?

Fever is not dangerous during pregnancy. It is important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids. When you are pregnant your blood pressure can drop, so you’ll be a little more sensitive to dehydration.

If you do have symptoms, you can take Tylenol, but avoid using NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Side effects should only last about 24 hours. – Dr. Marjorie Meyer

Should breastfeeding people get the vaccine? Is there any evidence that the antibodies could travel through breastmilk to benefit the baby?

The COVID-19 vaccine is not a live virus, so there is no need to “pump and dump” breastmilk. You can certainly get the vaccine and continue breastfeeding. As for antibody transfer, we don’t yet know if this is possible. – Dr. Marjorie Meyer

If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, should you wait until after receiving the vaccine?

Planning pregnancy is no reason to delay vaccination. Should you become pregnant between the first and second dose, the recommendation is to receive the second dose of vaccine as scheduled.  – Dr. Marjorie Meyer

Are there any reasons why someone who is pregnant or breastfeeding should not receive the vaccine?

If someone has had a severe allergic reaction to any of the components of the current vaccines, it is recommended that they talk to their provider before getting the vaccine. Other than that, no. – Dr. Kristen Pierce

Want to share information regarding vaccination during pregnancy with someone who doesn’t speak English? The Vermont Department of Health has created videos on the topic in a few common languages. You can find them on their YouTube page.

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