Myths and facts about COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy

A lot of myths have sprung up about the COVID-19 vaccine and pregnancy, and while one local doctor works to dispel them, a Northern Virginia woman said asking “nitpicky questions” of her doctor gave her the facts.

Getting to the truth is important because women who are pregnant and sick with COVID-19 are more likely than other women to die, be hospitalized or be put on ventilators. Guidance from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says that the vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant women.

The V-safe After Vaccination Health Checker at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of last month had data on more than 30,000 pregnancies. “And they have found no safety concerns,” said Dr. Amy Banulis, an OBGYN with Kaiser Permanente in Falls Church. “Specifically, no unexpected pregnancy or infant outcomes and no increase in the rate of miscarriage. So this is very, very reassuring.”

She added, “COVID vaccine in pregnancy is absolutely considered safe. There have been no risks demonstrated. None of the vaccines that are currently approved — none of them are live vaccines, so there’s no chance of getting sick from the vaccine. There’s no chance the vaccine is going to make your baby sick.”

Another myth about the vaccine: It causes infertility. “That is absolutely not the case,” Banulis said. “That’s been disproven — there’s been lots of good scientific study around that,” she said.

Yet another myth concerns the way mRNA vaccines, such as the COVID-19 vaccines work, by teaching cells how to make a protein, or even just a piece of a protein, to trigger an immune response.

“The vaccines don’t enter the nucleus of the cell; they don’t alter human DNA so they can’t cause any genetic changes,” Banulis said.

The ACOG guidance says the three vaccines currently available have not been tested in pregnant women and that “limited safety data specific to use in pregnancy is available.” It recommends women talk with their doctors. That’s what Jessica Rudzinski, 33, of Falls Church, has done repeatedly.

She said doing that has led her on a journey of “unknown, to cautious, to really positive” regarding her support for getting the vaccine.

Rudzinski is seven months pregnant. She received the first of two COVID-19 vaccinations a few weeks ago.

“I asked my OB a lot of tough, specific, nitpicky questions because I really wanted to make sure that I was making the right decision and not just following what I’d ‘heard’ from people or what I maybe saw in a news headline,” she said.

“I would just encourage people to cut out some of the noise. Focus on what you really need to now to make your decision. Keep that conversation with your doctor and make your decision based on that information.”

Vaccine protection

Other vaccines given to pregnant women are known to protect babies. The CDC recommends vaccinating against pertussis (known as whooping cough) for women in their third trimester to protect the baby right away at birth. It works with influenza, too.

“Babies born of mothers who receive the flu vaccine have a much lower chance of getting the flu within the first six months of life,” Banulis noted.

It’s not known whether the COVID-19 vaccines work that way. But two pediatricians in South Florida have made preliminary reports, not yet certified by peer review, that a health care worker who received a Moderna vaccine dose in January, at 36 weeks pregnant gave birth to a healthy girl with SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies detectable in her umbilical cord blood at the time of delivery.

Researchers in Massachusetts found the new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to be highly effective in producing antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in pregnant and lactating women. They found that the vaccines confer protective immunity to newborns through breastmilk and the placenta.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a recent study about vaccines and pregnancy and lactating women.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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