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Update: Due to an uptick in the number of pregnant people dying from COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an urgent health advisory urging more vaccinations of pregnant people to prevent "serious illness, death, and adverse pregnancy outcomes" from the virus.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends urgent action to increase Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination among people who are pregnant, recently pregnant (including those who are lactating), who are trying to become pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the future. CDC strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccination either before or during pregnancy because the benefits of vaccination outweigh known or potential risks," the advisory states.
This new advisory comes at the end of the deadliest month of the pandemic for pregnant people so far. In August, at least 22 pregnant people died from COVID-19 in the US, and almost all of the pregnant people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in 2021 so far have been unvaccinated (97%).
CDC strongly recommends pregnant women get the COVID vaccine
Update: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention newly recommends that all pregnant women receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The updated guidance comes after the recent spike in cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19, which has resulted in scores of unvaccinated pregnant women becoming seriously ill.
Vaccinations are low among pregnant women: According to CDC data, just 23% of pregnant women have received at least one shot. Recent research shows that the COVID-19 vaccine is effective for pregnant women while also being safe—studies show there's no increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects as a result of immunization.
In contrast, contracting COVID-19 while pregnant carries significant risks for both mothers and infants, including preterm birth. Even those who have been recently pregnant are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
"The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people," says CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement on Aug. 11.
The CDC's recommendation comes on the heels of recent guidance released by the leading obstetrician, family physicians and pediatrician associations in the country.
"Pregnant individuals are at increased risk of severe COVID-19 infection, including death. With cases rising as a result of the Delta variant, the best way for pregnant individuals to protect themselves against the potential harm from COVID-19 infection is to be vaccinated," the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics said in conjunction with other organizations in a joint statement.
ACOG officially recommends pregnant people get the COVID vaccine
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) jointly released a new recommendation that all pregnant people be vaccinated against COVID-19. This recommendation reflects the latest in scientific evidence demonstrating the safety of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy in the tens of thousands of pregnant people who have received the vaccines in the past several months.
The recommendations also extend to those who have a high-risk pregnancy. "COVID-19 vaccination is the best method to reduce maternal and fetal complications of COVID-19 infection among pregnant people," said William Grobman, MD, MBA, president of SMFM. Experts in high-risk pregnancy, maternal-fetal medicine subspecialists, strongly recommend that pregnant, postpartum and lactating people and those considering pregnancy receive the vaccination.
Given the low vaccination rates around the U.S. and the staggering increase in cases around the country, this recommendation is especially timely. Because pregnant people are at a heightened risk of severe complications and even death from contracting COVID-19, vaccination at this stage is vital.
Since the rollout of the mRNA COVID vaccines began late last year, many have been wondering if it's safe to get the vaccine while pregnant. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization all agree the COVID vaccine is safe for those who are pregnant, based on current research, which finds no evidence that the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines pose serious risks during pregnancy.
Recent study shows COVID vaccines are safe for pregnancy
Recent data, published in June in The New England Journal of Medicine, shows that mRNA vaccines are not correlated with an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects when administered during pregnancy.
Pregnant people with COVID-19 are more likely to be admitted into the intensive care unit and need respiratory support compared to non-pregnant people of the same age. COVID-19 also increases the risk of premature birth. According to the WHO, 1 in 4 of all babies born to women with COVID-19 was admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit.
The study reviewed data on 35,691 pregnant people between December 14, 2020 to February 28, 2021 from the CDC's V-safe program, as well as data from the CDC's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Pregnant participants were between 16-54 years old.
Within the V-safe group, there were 3,958 pregnant participants. Data shows 827 completed pregnancies, 115 experienced pregnancy loss (13.9% of study participants; versus 10% to 26% in the general population), and 712 of them had a live birth (86.1%). Preterm births occurred in 9.4% of participants (as compared to 8% to 15% in the general population) and only 3.2% of these were small gestational age (as compared to 3% to 5% in the general population). There were no neonatal deaths reported.
In the VAERS group, 221 pregnancy-related adverse events were reported to the CDC's VAERS registry, and 46 of them were miscarriages.
After vaccination, pregnant participants reported similar side effects experienced by the nonpregnant vaccine recipients: pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches and muscle pain.
All in all, the adverse pregnancy effects in vaccine recipients did not appear to differ from those reported in pregnant people before the pandemic.
"Although not directly comparable, calculated proportions of adverse pregnancy and neonatal outcomes in persons vaccinated against Covid-19 who had a completed pregnancy were similar to incidences reported in studies involving pregnant women that were conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic," the findings concluded.
These findings are extremely reassuring for those who are considering vaccination in pregnancy. Research will continue to assess long-term COVID-19 vaccine safety during pregnancy, particularly in early pregnancy.
But the available data is very helpful to expecting families when it comes to making informed decisions about the COVID-19 vaccination and prioritizing health and wellness of mama and baby above all.
A version of this post was originally published on August 11, 2021. It has been updated.
Jessica D'Argenio Waller is Motherly's Health + Wellness Senior Editor. She is a board-certified holistic nutritionist and herbalist, with a focus on women's health.Learn More