Uncertainty, lack of data, can make pregnant women wary about taking COVID-19 vaccine

Mother and baby. Credit: Image Source/Getty Images

For pregnant women, and those who may become pregnant, it’s a disconcerting time.

Florida and other states in the nation have received the first COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, but women preparing for a baby, or thinking about having a baby, will need to decide to get immunized for the virus that has caused thousands of infections and deaths.

At issue is a lack of data and the “I don’t know” factor, according to Michelle Mahon, a registered nurse and assistant director of nursing practice at National Nurses United, a large union representing registered nurses.

Questions have been raised about “the groups of people who were not represented in this (vaccine) trial such as children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised patients,” Mahon said during a Facebook live video on Friday.

“These are all questions of things that we still don’t have the answers to,” Mahon said. “I think that it’s been one of the frustrating things about this. … Sometimes the answer is, ‘I don’t know.’”

Willa Fuller, executive director of the Florida Nurses Association, agreed that pregnant or lactating women were not included in Pfizer’s vaccine trials earlier this year.

And because those groups of women were excluded, health experts “are telling women to ask their health care providers what they should do,” Fuller said in an email to the Florida Phoenix.

Health experts had to issue guidance on which groups are safe to take the vaccine, but it’s still not clear how the immunization could affect a pregnant woman and her child.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday that the vaccine had arrived at Tampa General Hospital, and health care workers were first in line to get vaccines.

Those who work in the health care field are at a high risk of COVID-19 infections, therefore, doses are expected to go to that group first, followed by residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

And “the majority of health care workers are women,” according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer. That report said “Johns Hopkins University researchers noted” that “an estimated 330,000 in this workforce” are expected to become pregnant or breastfeeding.

That means there will be a lot of decisions for women about the vaccine.

The National Nurses United said in a statement Monday:

“We expect any vaccine to meet the highest public safety and efficacy standards as its top priority, not political or financial considerations. It must undergo a full scientific evaluation and rigorous oversight before it is widely distributed. The imminent COVID-19 vaccines being discussed have not completed the regular Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process.”

Some state lawmakers in Florida weighed in on the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine on pregnant women, or women considering having a baby, and whether they believe it’s safe.

State Sen. Lori Berman, who represents part of Palm Beach County, said in an email that she plans to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

“I am a strong supporter of the vaccine…It is my understanding that the vaccine trials did not include pregnant women. For that reason, I would advise any pregnant women to consult with their physician in making the decision about whether to take the vaccine,” she said.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, said in a text message to the Phoenix:

“Pregnant women were excluded from both the Moderna and Pfizer studies, so no one can say for sure how these specific vaccines will perform for those who are pregnant. I think the overall consensus has been that the vaccine will be safe for pregnant women but we definitely need more data before we can conclusively say that.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee met last week to discuss issues surrounding the vaccine, including whether pregnant and lactating women should receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to CDC’s website, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) “comprises medical and public health experts who develop recommendations on the use of vaccines in the civilian population of the United States.”

The group said in the meeting that data doesn’t exist on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant and lactating women but suggested that women in those groups should consult with their doctors when deciding whether to get vaccinated.

The panel issued recommendations, saying that pregnant women who work in health care may choose to be vaccinated but “a discussion with her health care provider can help her make an informed decision.”

For those lactating or breastfeeding, the panel said that the COVID-19 vaccines “are not considered live virus vaccines and are not thought to be a risk to the breastfeeding infant.”

The CDC panel also noted some risk factors pregnant women should consider before choosing the vaccine such as the number of COVID-19 cases in their community, the risk of contracting the virus based on occupation or activities and known side effects of the vaccine.

According to the CDC, the vaccine may come with certain side effects including pain or swelling in the arm where the vaccine was injected, fever, chills, tiredness and a headache.

But at this point, it’s likely too early to tell which individuals might get some reactions or none at all.

“Since only one day has passed, we have not received any negative feedback from providers regarding their vaccine experience,” said Fuller, of the Florida Nurses Association.