Hamilton Journal News
Leading organizations say pregnant women should have full access to vaccine
Pregnant women weighing whether to receive the COVID-19 vaccine need to look no further than recommendations outlined by the leading health care organizations and the advice of their own provider.
Pregnant women will soon be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the C1 at-risk category group. And leading organizations – including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – say that pregnant women should not be withheld from receiving any of the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved and distributed in the United States.
“What these organizations are saying is that each woman should make the decision for themselves through the guidance of their own personal physician,” said David McKenna, MD, with Perinatal Partners. “Women don’t need the approval of their physician to receive the vaccine, but if they are concerned about their decision, they should consult with their provider.”
Dr. McKenna said preliminary data shows that a woman who is pregnant has a higher likelihood of experiencing serious illness from COVID-19 than a non-pregnant woman at the same age.
“Data is very clear for pregnant women who contract COVID-19,” said Dr. McKenna, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “They’re more likely to get admitted to the hospital, they’re more likely to get admitted to the ICU, and they’re more likely to die.”
This data is not unexpected, he said, when history is used as a guide. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine five years after the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 looked specifically at the disease’s effect on pregnant women compared to age-matched controls of non-pregnant women. The study found that the risk of severe illness, ICU admittance and even death was five times more likely if a woman was pregnant.
Symptoms of COVID-19 remain the same for a pregnant woman as those who are not pregnant, including respiratory and widespread organ distress. However, one cause of COVID-19 has OB/ GYNs particularly concerned.
“We always worry about the increased risk for blood clots during a woman’s pregnancy, and that is one of the manifestations of the COVID19 infection,” Dr. McKenna said.
It’s important to recognize the two COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States use new technology, he said.
“We have lots of experience with vaccinations during pregnancy, and we know there are some types of vaccines that present a theoretical risk to the fetus,” Dr. McKenna said. “For example, the chickenpox vaccine is a live attenuated or weakened virus that potentially could cause viral infection in a fetus, so we don’t use it during pregnancy. The COVID-19 vaccines that use mRNA technology are completely different.”
The mRNA vaccine goes into a woman’s cells and tricks the cells into making the spike protein from the coronavirus that causes the virus to adhere to the receptors in the body’s cells. In turn, the body begins producing antibodies to the spike proteins, he said.
“It’s a new way of approaching vaccines, and it’s brilliant,” Dr. McKenna said. “When you think of the mechanism used by vaccines that aren’t used during pregnancy, this one doesn’t fit that pattern. We’re not giving anyone the coronavirus with these vaccines.”
Research is ongoing, but Dr. McKenna said it’s likely that a pregnant woman who receives the vaccine and develops antibodies to the virus will pass those antibodies on to her unborn child. Similarly, nursing mothers who receive the vaccine could help pass the antibodies on to her baby.
Dr. McKenna emphasized the clear disparity of COVID19 and people of color and urged pregnant women in atrisk populations to consider their higher likelihood for severe infection and mortality, and to make the COVID19 vaccine a high priority.
“If you look at data, you will see that people of color are twice as likely to have severe disease or die from COVID-19,” Dr. McKenna said. “It’s not that much different than what we already see with infant mortality.”
COVID-19 affects every individual differently. Therefore, Dr. McKenna advises men and women of childbearing age to consult with their physician.
There’s no early indication that the vaccines would affect a woman or man’s ability to conceive.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine or to schedule an appointment with a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit PremierHealth. com/MakeAnAppointment.