Basic COVID Vaccine Facts
What is the COVID Vaccine and How Does It Work?
We’ve all seen the picture of the big grey ball with red knobs all over it; the SARS Cov-2 virus that causes the illness we call COVID-19. The new mRNA vaccines approved by the FDA for emergency use in December of 2020 are not made with live or even killed viruses. They’re made with a piece of the virus’s genetic code that tells cells how to make just the COVID protein spikes (those red knobs). This gives our immune system enough information to form antibodies without risking illness.
Currently, the US Food and Drug Administration has given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Moderna’s mRNA 1273 and Pfizer’s BioNTech BNT162b2 vaccines. The first dose was administered on December 14, 2020. Both vaccines work with two doses. Moderna’s are 28 days apart and Pfizer’s 21 days.
Who Gets The COVID Vaccine First?
Since the vaccine is in short supply, states are prioritizing who gets it first. At present, healthcare workers and nursing home residents are at the top of the list, followed by first responders and people who are at risk due to health conditions. Pregnant women are not in the at-risk group unless there are other risk factors.
Most people haven’t gotten the first dose yet, so providers are holding back second doses. This causes a holdup in the rollout.
Pregnancy COVID Vaccine FAQs
Should Pregnant Women Take the COVID Vaccine?
Maybe. The jury is still out. The UK is advising against pregnant and breastfeeding women receiving the vaccine, while the US and Canada are saying that the vaccine should not be denied to pregnant women, but that we don’t have safety data yet.
The most recent word from the World Health Organization S.A.G.E. (Strategic Advisory Group of Experts) agrees that pregnant women should not take the Moderna vaccine until we have safety data, however, they said the exact same thing about the Pfizer vaccine a few weeks earlier.
The Centers for Disease Control prevaccination checklist does ask if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. It’s a personal choice. You should talk it over with your practitioner. Let’s look at risk-benefit.
COVID-19 is Bad News For You and Your Baby
First, we know that COVID-19 and other respiratory infections are especially hard on pregnant women. If you are pregnant right now, it’s especially important to protect yourself. Severe COVID-19 does put expectant mothers at high risk for respiratory distress, which also puts the fetus at increased risk for hypoxia, or low blood oxygen. Hypoxia can cause low birth weight and long-term health and learning problems, which is one reason why severe COVID almost certainly means a caesarian delivery.
BUT The Vaccines Are Not Trialed For Pregnant Women
This is a brand new vaccine that was developed in a hurry. A new term, vaccine hesitancy, has emerged. Vaccine-hesitant people are not anti-vaxxers. They are just cautious and don’t want to be guinea pigs. The fact that so many healthcare workers are hesitant means it’s not unreasonable to have questions.
The truth is that vaccine trials normally don’t include pregnant or breastfeeding women until a product has been deemed safe and effective for everybody else. There is no data to say if these vaccines are safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women or not. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that given the way the vaccines are made, they are probably safe for that population, but we don’t have conclusive proof.
Does the COVID Vaccine Have Side Effects?
As an expectant mother, you are probably especially concerned about side effects. Yes, some people have had allergic reactions. The CDC says that the rate of anaphylactic shock is currently 11.1 per million, usually occurring within 15 minutes of injection and requiring a shot of epinephrine.
That’s about 11 times as frequent as reactions to the flu shot, but it’s still very low. Most people who have reactions have had allergic reactions to something before.
Many people have reported symptoms similar to flu shot side effects; sore arms and a few days of feeling a bit off. Health departments all say that if you have a history of severe allergic reactions you should not take the vaccine. Vaccination sites are prepared and will monitor you.
Several sources are roundly denying rumors that nurses have died or had bad reactions after receiving the vaccine. Still, everyone has heard a story. It’s something to research and discuss with your practitioner.
Does the COVID Vaccine Pose a Risk to My Unborn Child?
The CDC says that there is no evidence that the mRNA vaccines could be harmful to a fetus. They do say that you should not take other vaccines routinely given during pregnancy within 14 days of taking the COVID vaccine. Your doctor can tell you if you should hold off taking the vaccine.
Will the COVID Vaccine Give My Baby Immunity?
It should. Vaccines like Whooping Cough are given to pregnant women to immunize newborns. Since pediatric COVID is usually mild or asymptomatic, it’s probably not a huge concern anyway. Antibodies are also passed on in mother’s milk.
Does the COVID Vaccine Cause Infertility?
Highly unlikely. This rumor got traction because it was started by a former Pfizer employee. The protein syncytin-1 is one of two proteins that prevent miscarriage. It shares a short sequence of amino acids with the mRNA strand used by the COVID vaccine.
Maternal fetal medicine specialists at both Duke and Yale Universities say that the common strand is too short to trigger an autoimmune response in the placenta.
How Do I Get the COVID Vaccine?
Doses are in limited supply so states are rolling out vaccination by stages according to risk level. Hospitals and pharmacy clinics will be offering the vaccine at no cost.
Talk to your doctor. Unless they are a healthcare worker, frontline worker, or otherwise at risk, pregnant women are not getting the vaccine yet. You can sign up online or call.
The good news is that if you are concerned about whether the COVID vaccine could be harmful to you or your baby, by the time you are offered it, there will be a lot more evidence to base your decision on.
- The jury is still out on whether pregnant women should be vaccinated. Right now it’s a personal choice. Talk to your medical practitioner.
- There are no studies or trials yet testing COVID vaccine safety for use on pregnant women.
- The known risk from severe COVID-19 to pregnant women is probably much higher than the unknown risk from the COVID vaccines.
- Anaphylactic reactions are more frequent with the COVID vaccine.
- Don’t take the vaccine if you get severe allergic reactions.
- Don’t take the vaccine within 14 days of other vaccinations.
- Experts say the COVID vaccine infertility rumor is false.
- Pregnant women are not slated for earlier vaccination than the general public. You probably have time to research and think about this.
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