As the coronavirus vaccine rollout continues, there have been questions about the safety of the coronavirus vaccine for women of childbearing age.
So much misinformation about the safety of the coronavirus vaccine has been spreading on social media that Facebook flagged as false information posts that claimed Pfizer’s research head said the vaccine caused “female sterilization.”
Medical experts praised the move, agreeing that the claim is totally false.
The vaccines cannot cause fertility problems because they do not “infect the genetic structure of an individual,” Eddy Bresnitz, medical advisor to the New Jersey COVID-19 response team, said at Gov. Phil Murphy’s Wednesday briefing.
“The message is that young women who are of childbearing age should not fear the vaccine for fear of infertility,” Bresnitz said. “It’s just not something you need to be concerned about.”
Some have also been asking whether pregnant or breastfeeding women should take a vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said there isn’t enough data about pregnant women taking the vaccine to make a recommendation, though trials are planned.
Women should discuss the decision to be vaccinated with their doctors, the agencies said.
The conversation should involve a woman’s risk of getting the coronavirus compared to the benefits of the vaccine, said Sandra Adams, a professor of biology at Montclair State University.
“The physician would have to assess the risks and benefits to request vaccination for pregnant women in the absence of data,” she said.
Now that larger groups of people are getting the vaccines, officials say there will soon be a lot more data.
Moderna plans to “establish a passive pregnancy registry to monitor vaccination during pregnancy within populations expected to receive the vaccine under (Emergency Use Authorization), and to submit a protocol for FDA review and approval,” the company said in a briefing document to the federal health officials.
Surveillance data from the CDC suggests that pregnancy is a risk factor for a more severe disease compared to non-pregnant women, said Dr. Justin Brandt, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
“We know that infected pregnant women are more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit, receive mechanical ventilation, and die, compared to similarly-aged, non-pregnant women,” he said.
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Pregnant women have been largely excluded from COVID-19 vaccine trials.
“The intention of these exclusionary practices was to protect pregnant women from potential vaccine risks, but a consequence is that pregnant women will be exposed to the vaccine without abundant safety data,” Brandt said. “That said, there is reason to be optimistic about the safety profile of the new COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy.”
He said the new mRNA-based vaccines like the Pfizer vaccine, for example, do not contain live virus, but rather use viral mRNA to stimulate an immune response.
The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine is encouraging healthcare providers to counsel patients about the risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy, focusing on potential vaccine risks while also considering the risks of the infection and an individual’s risk for severe disease.
“An estimated 75% of healthcare workers are women and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 330,000 healthcare workers will be pregnant or will have recently given birth when COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available,” the group said. “Recent data have demonstrated that pregnant people are more likely to have severe COVID disease, including an increased risk of ICU admission and death.”
WHAT ABOUT THE BABY?
Pregnant women are advised to be careful about everything they put in their bodies because of any potential effects on their babies.
The coronavirus vaccine is no different.
“There is always caution regarding the possibility of harm to the fetus. Data is needed to assess this risk,” Adams said.
She said there’s not enough data to predict whether the recommended dosage will be sufficient to generate the antibody levels needed to protect the mother and child.
Brandt said the COVID-19 vaccines should augment the immune response.
He said like other vaccines in pregnancy, the mother’s immune system will generate antibodies that can cross the placenta. This will help the newborn’s immune system to fight the infection before the newborn can be vaccinated, he said.
“This is one beneficial effect that the vaccine will have on newborns. In terms of potential harm, the theoretical risk to a fetus is considered low with the new generation vaccine platforms, such as Pfizer’s mRNA-based vaccine,” Brandt said.
There are also COVID-19 vaccines under development that are using conventional vaccine development technologies, Brandt said. These vaccines use technology similar to the flu vaccine, for which we have favorable safety data in pregnancy, he said.
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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at [email protected].