A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 11% of pregnant women in the U.S. are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s far too low, according to a Utah medical expert.
Intermountain Healthcare’s Dr. Sean Esplin, a maternal-fetal medicine physician, says that number should be much higher due to emerging data showing that pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are at a higher risk for pre-term birth and miscarriage.
Dr. Esplin recognizes pregnant women want to be careful and understandably might be nervous about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. However, he says, if you’re pregnant, the best thing is to get more information so you can adequately evaluate the risks and benefits of getting, or not getting, the COVID-19 vaccine.
National organizations such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that each person consider their own potential risk factors and discuss them with their OB provider.
They all agree that, in most cases, there is no reason for pregnant women to not receive the COVID vaccine.
What factors might influence a pregnant woman’s decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Dr. Esplin encourages all pregnant women to evaluate their own risk of contracting COVID-19. Talking with their OB provider can help further evaluate the risk, he says.
“People are at higher risk of contracting COVID if you have lots of contact with people outside your home,” Dr. Esplin noted. “You’re also at more risk of getting COVID-19 if you’re pregnant and over age 35 or are overweight, or have other medical conditions, or smoke or belong to a minority population.”
Generally, Dr. Esplin says the vaccine makes sense for women in all those groups. Pregnant women should also look at the rate of COVID-19 in their local community. Positivity rates in Utah are still somewhat high right now. And there are the new variants to the virus to consider, which are fueling Utah’s rise of new COVID cases and hospitalizations.
When people who are pregnant get COVID-19, they have a slightly higher risk of ending up in the ICU and having a severe case COVID-19. Dr. Esplin says it just makes sense to protect yourself and your baby.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is a critical part of how we end this pandemic. We want as many people to get the vaccine as they can,” says Dr. Esplin.
If a woman has had a severe reaction to another vaccine, Dr. Esplin suggests talking about the risks and benefits of the vaccine with your OB provider.
Many patients who are pregnant have a wide spectrum of feelings about the vaccine. Some are biased by misinformation they’ve heard about vaccines. Dr. Esplin notes that for years, physicians have encouraged pregnant women to take other vaccines, such as for the flu and Tdap.
Q&A with Dr. Esplin:
Q. Does it matter what trimester of your pregnancy you are in when you get the vaccine?
A. There is no evidence that women in their first or second trimester are at higher risk if they get the vaccine. Physicians also say it is okay to get pregnant after getting vaccine.
Q. What about the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. If you get the vaccine, there will be side effects. That’s normal and expected and it’s a sign the vaccine is working. Side effects include a sore arm, body aches, fever, fatigue, headache. The vaccines currently available are 95 percent effective if you get both doses. The efficacy is much more pronounced after the second dose. Be sure to get the second dose.
Q. If you get the vaccine do you still need to wear a mask and practice social distancing and good hand hygiene?
A. Yes. Getting the vaccine means you have a lower chance of getting the virus, but you can still get the virus. Getting the vaccine also means if you get the virus, your case is likely to be milder than if you didn’t get the vaccine. So, wearing masks and practicing social distancing and good hand hygiene will further reduce your risk of getting COVID-19 and other viruses such as the flu or colds as well.
Q. Where can women go for more information?