On a special episode of Healthful Woman, Dr. Fox and Emily Oster discuss some very important facts about the new COVID vaccine and how testing is performed, how vaccines work, and their relationship to pregnant women. Since these are topics that are likely in everyone’s minds, it’s very important to find accurate information from maternal fetal medicine experts. Here’s what to know about the COVID vaccine and how it may affect you and your baby.
Most people have a basic understanding of how vaccines work — by introducing an inactive form of the virus into your body so your body can develop the appropriate antibodies to fend off the actual virus. However, this can lead people to be hesitant about receiving a vaccine. “I think the step that’s hard is thinking about, well, what did you do to the virus that made it so I’m not getting it?” Oster says. “Somehow they end up thinking about it like ‘the vaccine gives me a milder form of the virus’. I’m not sure that’s a very helpful way to think about it.”
New vaccine technologies are constantly evolving, and one such method incorporated into the COVID vaccine is called mRNA technology. “M is for message. So, it’s a messenger RNA. People know normally what DNA is, and RNA is a related compound or related biological methods messenger,” Oster says. “It’s a recipe to make a particular thing. And so when this is introduced, it goes to your cells and tells your cells, ‘make this thing.’ And the thing it’s making is a particular spike protein from the virus.” This comes with a huge benefit – namely that the proteins in the virus itself doesn’t need to be isolated and incorporated into each dose of the vaccine (which could be a huge undertaking to supply!).
“It’s almost like it allows our bodies to actually produce this protein ourselves that we can learn to fight. And it’s a much more efficient way to be vaccinated than to try to round-up the protein and inject it into people,” Dr. Fox says.
Pregnant women present a unique category when it comes to vaccine testing. This can even bring about a divisive discussion about testing methods and pregnant women. Fortunately, we have some proven success in administering certain types of vaccines to pregnant women. But, because COVID vaccine testing did not include pregnant women as a specific study group, it’s difficult to reach any conclusions about whether it’s safe for this population or not. If you’re pregnant and considering the COVID vaccine, it’s normal to have a lot of questions. That’s why it’s important to make the right decision for you and your baby with the help of your obstetrician or maternal fetal medicine specialist.
This choice can be a tough one. “Would you rather be at risk for COVID when you’re pregnant or take a vaccine with the potential for a theoretical risk that we didn’t think of? And it’s not a great choice to be in, obviously, but that’s where we are.,” Dr. Fox says. This means it’s more important than ever to talk with your obstetrician and address any concerns with the information we have available.
It can be difficult to weigh your options in the midst of a rapidly-changing understanding of COVID and how to prevent it. But the best thing you can do is talk to your general physician and obstetric team. If you choose to vaccinate, there are potential side effects. There is no known risk to the vaccine in pregnancy, but it has not yet been studied in large numbers of pregnant women. However, the potential / theoretical risk of the vaccine in pregnancy must be weighed against the risk of acquiring COVID overall, and in pregnancy specifically. If you choose not to vaccinate, then you’ll need to take close precautions during your pregnancy — and from what we understand of COVID, contracting the virus during pregnancy comes with additional risks. You’ll even need to consider your family members or high-risk individuals in your life and whether you plan to have contact with them, as well as the potential that any COVID immunity would be passed on to your baby.
However, Dr. Fox says, “For the general public, I recommend getting the COVID vaccine unless there is a specific reason you can’t. I recommend it whether you are high-risk or low-risk. Whenever it is your turn, you should get it.” Dr. Fox also said regarding pregnant women: “If I were pregnant, I would get the vaccine.”
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to your safety and your baby’s. The best way to make an informed decision is by meeting with our maternal fetal medicine team. To schedule an appointment, we invite you to contact our New York City office by calling or filling out our online form.
Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!