Update November 10, 2021
Since the publishing date of this blog, several organizations have come forward to state that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and recommended for women who are trying to conceive, or who are pregnant, or who are breastfeeding. The organizations include:
- Provincial Council for Maternal and Child Health
- Ontario Society of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists
- Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada
- National Advisory Committee on Immunization
“You can safely get the COVID-19 vaccine before becoming pregnant or in any trimester of pregnancy,” the OHM said in a press release. “The benefits of getting vaccinated to prevent potential complications in pregnancy far outweigh the risks. Not only will the vaccine protect you from COVID-19 infection, it will reduce the risk of severe illness and complications related to COVID-19 infections in pregnancy,” it continued. “Studies suggest the antibodies your body develops following vaccination will pass to your baby, which may keep them safe after birth.”
According to new data since the publishing date of this blog post, 5% of pregnant women who get COVID-19 require admission to hospital, and of that number, 10% end up in intensive care units for long periods of time. Pregnant women in ICUs and their fetuses have to be monitored closely and the data shows that women who acquire COVID-19 are more likely to deliver prematurely.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for pregnancy?
Each pregnancy is unique and comes with its highs and lows. Did you somehow skip out on the first trimester morning sickness? That’s a welcome surprise. Are you struggling with pregnancy insomnia? It’s a side effect most moms-to-be expect. But pregnancy during a global pandemic? Now that’s an obstacle parents never saw coming.
With the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic on the horizon, parents worldwide had to pivot their expectations of what raising kids and growing their families will look like in the age of social distancing. Although many look forward to getting vaccinated, the question on our minds remains: is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant or planning a pregnancy?
The answer hasn’t always been clear. In consideration of the new guidelines, Canadians should follow the government’s recommendations while family planning. Read on to get your most frequently asked questions about pregnancy and the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine answered by our fertility specialists.
How safe is the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding?
The COVID-19 vaccine is thought to be safe for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, according to its biology. According to the new policy, in January 2021, Ontario’s Ministry of Health announced pregnant and breastfeeding women can get and should be allowed to choose if they want to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Pregnant and breastfeeding people had not been included in the first COVID-19 vaccine trials, yet existing data provides some reassurance regarding the safety of the vaccine. “Women who inadvertently got pregnant while on the study and got vaccinates: they were fine,” explains Dr. Upton Allen, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Sick Kids Hospital, who joined us for an Instagram Live in February to discuss how safe the COVID-19 vaccine is for pregnancy.
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The approved COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines. They do not contain the live virus. Instead, mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Our cells, explains Dr Allen, “are like a peach that has a seed in the middle and an outer fleshy coat. The seed is the nucleus of the cell and that’s where the DNA lives. The outer fleshy part is the cytoplasm and that’s where the mRNA enters and stays and does its thing. It can’t get into the core of the nucleus where the DNA is.” In fact, mRNA only stays in the cytoplasm for a few days and then it’s gone, reassures Dr. Allen.
That’s why COVID-19 vaccines are not thought to adversely affect your fertility or cause first or second-trimester loss, stillbirth or congenital anomalies. Further, the vaccines do not enter our DNA or change your or your baby’s genetic makeup.
Why is it suddenly safe for pregnant and breastfeeding people to get vaccinated?
The information about the COVID-19 virus and its vaccines changes rapidly. Pregnant and breastfeeding women were not included in the initial COVID-19 vaccine trials, which is why Ontario previously did not recommend the vaccine.
The government’s new guidelines were made with guidance from various professional societies, and they have continued to advocate for making the COVID-19 vaccine available to pregnant women. More data on the use of the vaccine has been collected and there appears to be no significant adverse effects among the pregnant women who have chosen to take the vaccine. However, it’s always essential for each person to evaluate their specific risk factors for severe COVID-19 infection, and their medical history, before making an informed choice.
For this reason, it’s important to talk to your doctor and read the latest research from trusted and credible sources. Your primary healthcare provider or fertility specialist will always be happy to point you in the right direction.
Should I opt out of the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m planning on getting pregnant in 2021?
The short answer: no. If you’re ready to grow your family and plan on becoming pregnant now or in the near future, don’t skip out on the COVID-19 vaccine if and when it becomes available to you. Research shows the COVID-19 vaccine does not impact fertility. Getting vaccinated before pregnancy is the best way to ensure you’ll be protected from the COVID-19 virus, Harvard Medical School reports.
Will pregnant women be forced to take the COVID-19 vaccine?
Pregnant patients always have the right to make informed decisions for themselves and their families. Like any other treatment plans or medical advice, consult with your healthcare provider about your medical history and the benefits and risks of the vaccine.
“There is no risk of acquiring infection from the vaccine,” affirms Dr. Tanya Williams. There is also some biological evidence that taking the vaccine in pregnancy may confer some immunity to the fetus, although there have been no specific studies to confirm this. Dr. Williams advises “for now, our best protection is the public health measures that we have all been given and the vaccine.”
It is advised that pregnant women at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 (e.g. healthcare workers) or those who have underlying illnesses that increase their risk of severe disease, should seriously consider being vaccinated, in consultation with their own health care provider.
How should pregnant people protect themselves from COVID-19?
Following public health guidelines and recommendations can help pregnant people lower their risk of contracting COVID-19. Some these guidelines include:
- Staying home as much as possible, except for important medical appointments, and work from home if possible.
- Talking to your doctor, obstetrician or fertility specialist about the possibility of telephone or video conference appointments.
- Avoiding visitors to your home, unless for medical purposes.
- Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Practicing social distancing (stay at least two metres from others).
- Avoiding touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
- Avoiding touching frequently touched surfaces when in public.
- Avoiding crowded places and peak-hours. Make limited trips to the store for essentials.
- Avoiding travel by public transit.
Watch our IGTV with Dr. Tanya Williams and Dr. Upton Allen, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Sick Kids Hospital, where they discuss if the COVID vaccine is safe for pregnant women, women trying to conceive, breastfeeding and more!
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Contact us today if you’re wondering whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine is right for you. Download our referral form to book your consultation to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and your fertility, pregnancy, or breastfeeding plans.