Vaccines provide an incredible amount of protection from diseases by causing your body to make antibodies against viruses and bacteria, but are they safe for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers and their baby? The benefit of vaccines for women and babies during pregnancy, in particular, varies depending on the vaccine. Let’s take a look at the differences and which vaccines may be safe or harmful. As always, this information should not take the place of the medical care or advice of your healthcare provider, so please make sure to consult with them before you make a decision based on the information shared within this blog.
Understanding Vaccine Basics
Once you are vaccinated, your body’s immune system is activated and starts creating antibodies to combat whatever disease you were vaccinated for. This helps your body identify that disease when it encounters it in the future and to combat it or stop you from getting the disease.
Primary Types of Vaccines
There are two primary types of vaccines: live and inactivated. A “live” vaccine is essentially made from bacteria or viruses that are weakened, but not killed. Inactivated vaccines differ in that they are made from bacteria or viruses that have been killed. These vaccines can’t cause the disease they are meant to prevent and, simply put, still cause your body to produce the antibodies.
Common Questions About Vaccines and Pregnancy
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about vaccines and pregnancy, so we want to set the record straight for some common questions we hear.
“Can vaccines make it more difficult for me to get pregnant?”
Answer: According to studies so far, there is no evidence that vaccines make it harder to get pregnant.
“Can getting a vaccine increase my chances of a miscarriage?”
Answer: Many studies have not shown an increased chance of miscarriage due to vaccination. Unfortunately, miscarriages can occur in any pregnancy regardless of vaccine status.
“Can vaccines increase the chance of birth defects?”
Answer: The background risk for every woman during pregnancy of having a baby with birth defects is 3-5%. Studies show that this risk is not increased when vaccines have been administered.
“Can getting a vaccine cause pregnancy complications or long-term health problems for a baby?”
Answer: Studies don’t show an increase in complications or long-term health problems for a baby after a vaccine has been administered.
“Is it safe to get a vaccine that contains thimerosal?”
Answer: Studies have not found thimerosal (a preservative used to stop the growth of harmful bacteria in vaccines) to cause harmful effects in a pregnant woman or her baby.
“If a man gets vaccinated, could it affect his fertility or increase the chances of the baby having birth defects?”
Answer: There is currently no evidence that suggests that live or inactivated vaccines will affect a man’s sperm or increase the chances of birth defects in babies.
Vaccines Recommended During Pregnancy
There are a few vaccines that are recommended during pregnancy. Under normal circumstances, they don’t cause side effects that have been proven to harm a woman or her baby. The vaccines recommended during pregnancy include:
Women who are pregnant have a higher chance of serious complications if they get the flu, which is why the flu shot is highly recommended. The ramifications for not getting it while you’re pregnant far outweigh getting it. While you may experience slight side effects from the flu shot, this is normal and much better than getting the actual flu. Getting the flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and your baby, and it can be administered at any point during your pregnancy.
The Tdap Vaccine
The Tdap vaccine is recommended during pregnancy and is especially beneficial between weeks 27-36 of a woman’s pregnancy. While you can get it at any point during your pregnancy, getting it during the third trimester may help protect your baby from the illness after they’re born. This matters because pertussis (whooping cough) can be deadly for infants and children, and they’re not eligible to get their own Tdap vaccine until they are two months old. By getting the Tdap vaccine during her third trimester, a mother greatly decreases the chances of her baby contracting pertussis before the baby can get their own Tdap.
The COVID-19 Vaccine
According to the CDC, “pregnant people with COVID-19 have an increased risk of severe illness, including illness resulting in intensive care admission, mechanical ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or death, though the absolute risk for these outcomes is low. Additionally, they might be at an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preeclampsia, coagulopathy, and preterm birth.” While data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant women is limited, initial data shows that there aren’t currently any safety concerns or adverse pregnancy-related outcomes that have resulted thus far.
The CDC notes: “Based on current knowledge, experts believe that COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to the pregnant person or fetus because the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines are non-replicating vaccines and cannot cause infection in either the mother or the fetus. Clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people are underway or planned. Vaccine manufacturers are also following outcomes in people in the clinical trials who became pregnant.”
Pregnant women may choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s recommended that you discuss with your provider before doing so, as not every woman or her pregnancy journey is the same and there may be considerations to discuss before moving forward. When making a decision about vaccination, pregnant women should and their healthcare providers will consider the level of COVID-19 community transmission, the patient’s personal risk of contracting COVID-19, the risks of COVID-19 to the patient and potential risks to the fetus, the efficacy of the vaccine, the side effects of the vaccine, and the limited data about the vaccine during pregnancy.
Other vaccines may be recommended during your pregnancy by your provider, so you’ll want to make sure to check with them to ensure you’re getting the correct ones for your health needs.
Vaccines to Avoid During Pregnancy
The CDC currently states that live viral vaccines can be harmful. However, there are instances where the benefits outweigh the risks, and this is determined on a case-by-case basis for each woman and each pregnancy.
A Vaccine Safety Breakdown for Pregnant Women
There are a number of vaccines that are pretty routine for women to receive and they all have different determined safety levels. Let’s take a look at the breakdown:
- Hepatitis A: Safety during pregnancy has not been determined, but the risk to a developing baby in the womb is expected to be low.
- Hepatitis B: Limited data shows that the hepatitis B vaccine should be safe for pregnant women and their baby, and it is highly recommended for pregnant women who are identified as being at risk for HBV infection during pregnancy.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Not recommended for pregnant women. If a woman has begun the vaccination series and finds out she is pregnant, the remainder of the doses in the series should be delayed until she gives birth.
- Influenza (Inactivated): Highly recommended and encouraged for pregnant women, as the risk of severe illness without it is very high.
- Influenza (LAIV): Not recommended for pregnant women.
- Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR): Should not be given to women who are attempting to become pregnant within the next month or are currently pregnant.
- Meningococcal (MenACWY or MPSV4): Pregnancy should not preclude the meningococcal vaccine, if indicated. Studies are currently underway to determine safety.
- Meningococcal (MenB): Vaccination should be deferred, as there aren’t currently any randomized controlled clinical trials that have been conducted to evaluate the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women.
- Pneumococcal Conjugate (PCV13): No pregnancy recommendations have been made at this time.
- Pneumococcal Polysaccharide (PPSV23): The safety of this vaccine during the first trimester of pregnancy has not been evaluated. However, mothers who were inadvertently vaccinated during pregnancy have not reported any adverse reactions or consequences for their newborns.
- Polio (IPV): No adverse effects have been documented, but the vaccination is not currently recommended for pregnant women unless they are at increased risk of infection and require immediate protection against polio.
- Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (Tdap) & Tetanus and Diphtheria (Td): Recommended for women who have not previously received the vaccine. It is best administered in a woman’s third trimester to provide protection for a baby until they can get their own vaccine at two-months-old.
- Varicella: Not recommended, as the effects of the varicella virus on a baby in the womb is unknown.
- Zoster: Not recommended for pregnant women.
Discussing Vaccines with Your Healthcare Provider
It is highly recommended that you discuss vaccines with your provider, as they can speak to which ones are recommended for you given your health history and current health conditions. Find our nearest location and contact us to set up an appointment!