WHO: Pregnant people shouldn't get COVID-19 vaccine unless benefits outweigh potential risks

  • Pregnant people should not get COVID-19 vaccines unless the benefits outweigh the risks, WHO said. 
  • People in high-risk jobs and with underlying conditions, for instance, may benefit. 
  • The vaccine is expected to be safe in pregnant people, but there’s not enough data to truly know its risks.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Pregnant women should hold off on getting Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, unless the benefits of protection outweigh the risks, the World Health Organization said in interim guidance released Monday. 

The organization issued the same advice for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on January 8. 

While the WHO’s stance appears to be one of the strongest in opposition to the vaccine during pregnancy, it’s not that different from what other professional and governmental organizations are saying: Pregnant people at high risk for COVID-19, like healthcare workers, or at high risk for serious complications from the illness, like those with gestational diabetes, should have the option of getting the shot. 

Pediatrician and neonatologist Dr. Jessica Madden went a step further, telling Insider those groups should “seriously consider” it. 

Read more: What pregnant people need to know about COVID-19 vaccine safety

Everyone else, however, may want to wait until more is known about the shots’ effects during pregnancy — and due to the way the vaccine is being rolled out, most will have to. 

“For women who are pregnant now, but not in prioritized groups, by the time the vaccine is available to them, most will no longer be pregnant,” Madden, who’s also the medical director of Aeroflow Breastpumps, said.

“There should be a lot more information available about the safety of the vaccine in pregnancy by the time most of them are eligible to receive it.” 

Pregnancy itself raises the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, though the overall risk is low

If infected, pregnant people have a higher risk of intensive-care unit admission, ventilation, life support, and even death than patients who aren’t pregnant, though the overall risk is still low, a November report from the CDC found. They’re also more likely to deliver prematurely. 

Pregnant women of color are particularly at risk for contracting the disease and experiencing related complications. 

Read more: No, the coronavirus vaccine won’t make you infertile

Monica Ramirez is one of them. The school staffer near Los Angeles didn’t touch her daughter, Emiliana, until the infant was six weeks old. Emiliana had been delivered via emergency C-section while Ramirez, who had a near-fatal case of COVID-19, was in a medically induced coma. 

“I feel very blessed that I have made it,” Ramirez, previously told Insider. “Not everyone has the same outcome.” Had a vaccine been available and given to Ramirez when she was pregnant, her experience might have looked a lot different. 

Due to the way the vaccine is made, it should be safe in pregnancy

Researchers don’t have good data on the risks to pregnant people, though healthcare and public health professionals expect that they’re low. 

“Based on how the COVID vaccine works, there should be very little risk to a developing baby,” Madden said. That’s because, like the flu vaccine, the coronavirus vaccines do not contain live virus.

“The mRNA in the vaccine acts locally, in the muscle cells surrounding the injection site,” she said. “It cannot enter into cells’ nucleus, thus it has no effect on DNA.” Plus, limited data from animal studies haven’t revealed any harms during pregnancy. 

The few women who did get pregnant while enrolled in the vaccines’ clinical trials reported no complications. 

The vaccine could possibly lead to a fever as a side effect, which can be problematic to the developing fetus early in pregnancy. However, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says it can be treated with Tylenol, which is safe in pregnancy and doesn’t seem to affect how the vaccines work. 

The decision should be influenced by your risk of exposure, rates in your community, and health status  

ACOG says the decision to get vaccinated during pregnancy should be informed by transmission rates in the community, as well as the individual’s risk of severe disease from COVID-19. A pregnant person’s occupation and pregnancy complications matter too, Madden said. 

Whatever you choose, “you should feel like your decision is respected,” she added, “and please know that if you choose not to get the vaccine right now, or in the future, that it is OK.” 

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