Please note: this information is correct on 2 June 2021. Any changes to this information will be published by the Messages for Mothers team to our website (www.messagesformothers.co.za) as soon as it becomes available to us. We understand that there are likely to be some changes to vaccine recommendations and distribution, over time.
All the discussion about vaccine issues can be scary and confusing. Also, the many, fast changes that are happening with COVID-19 vaccinations, can be unsettling. There is a lot of unhelpful false information that stops people making good decisions. We hope these messages offer some guidance based on scientific evidence and some reassurance. It is important that you discuss all of the risks and benefits with your healthcare provider and make your own decision with all the correct information available at the time.
Are pregnant and breastfeeding women able to get access to the COVID-19 vaccine?
At this time, 2 June 2021, the government has included some pregnant and breastfeeding women to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. These are pregnant and breastfeeding women who:
- Have comorbidities (high risk medical problems)
- Are at high risk of being exposed to COVID-19 (e.g. healthcare workers)
If I have recently had the COVID-19 vaccine and then find out I am pregnant, what should I do?
It is possible that you might get vaccinated while you are pregnant without realising yet that you are pregnant. Or, you might become pregnant soon after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. If this happens, there is no reason to be concerned. You should be reassured that it is very unlikely that there will be any harmful effects from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine for you or your baby. In fact, the vaccine will protect you against getting the severe complications of COVID during your pregnancy. But, it is important to go for antenatal care visits, and to tell the nurses and doctors at the clinic that you have recently had a COVID-19 vaccine.
Is it safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
There have not yet been large enough studies to test the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy and breastfeeding women. Animal studies done so far have shown that it is safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy. In places such as England, governments are making the COVID-19 vaccination available to pregnant healthcare workers and those with high-risk medical conditions.
If I am pregnant or breastfeeding and am offered the COVID-19 vaccine, how should I decide whether to have it?
If the COVID-19 vaccine is offered to you as a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, you should consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine, especially if you are a healthcare or essential worker or have a high-risk medical condition. Please discuss your options with your healthcare provider.
High risk medical conditions include:
- Weakened immune system due to conditions such as HIV, diabetes or cancer
- Respiratory (lung) conditions such as TB or poorly controlled asthma
- Known kidney or heart disease
- Chronic hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Having an organ transplant
Some of the benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine include:
- Vaccination prevents most people, including pregnant women, from getting the infection of COVID-19.
- If you do get infected with COVID-19 after being vaccinated, the vaccination prevents severe illness and death from COVID-19.
- This is important, because without vaccination, COVID-19 may be more dangerous in pregnant women, especially towards the end of pregnancy. As a pregnant woman, vaccination will give you reassurance that you are protected from COVID-19 when you have to attend the clinic or hospital for antenatal care and childbirth.
- You won’t get COVID-19 from the vaccination. COVID-19 vaccinations do not contain live coronavirus.
Some of the risks of getting the vaccine include:
- The COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been tested in enough pregnant women for scientists to be completely sure of its safety for you and your baby.
- Mild side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are common and can include: sore arm (where the vaccine is injected), tiredness, headaches, muscle pain, fever and joint pain.
- These side effects are usually mild and only last a few days.
- Severe complications of the vaccine (e.g abnormal blood clotting) have been reported but are extremely rare. You are far more likely to get COVID-19 infection and die from it than to get any severe complication of the vaccine
If I am pregnant and I fall into a priority group for receiving the vaccine, will I be excluded from receiving the vaccine?
The first priority for getting the COVID-19 vaccine are the health workers; other essential workers will also be prioritised soon. Of course, many health workers and essential workers are pregnant. For these pregnant workers who are at high risk of exposure to the virus through their jobs, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination almost certainly outweigh any possible harmful effects, even if safety information on COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy is still not complete. If you are in a priority group and you are also pregnant, you may ask for COVID-19 vaccination. Before you get the COVID-19 vaccine, a doctor or nurse will have to discuss the risks and benefits with you. It should not be denied to you as long as you confirm that you understand that safety of the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy is not yet proven. It is up to you to decide whether you want vaccination while still pregnant.
Can I be vaccinated if I am breastfeeding?
Yes, there are no known risks for the baby if a breastfeeding mother gets vaccinated against COVID-19. There may be benefits for the baby if the mother is vaccinated. However, breastfeeding mothers have not so far been identified as a priority group for COVID-19 vaccination, and so they will have to wait their turn to be vaccinated unless they fall into a priority group (such as healthcare workers).
- Patient Information Leaflet developed by the South African Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, United Kingdom.
- Senior specialist obstetricians-gynaecologists and paediatricians and other doctors involved with Department of Health guideline and policy development for COVID-19: Prof Susan Fawcus, A/Prof Simone Honikman, Dr Neil Moran, Dr James Nuttall, Dr Natasha Rhoda, Professor Priya Soma-Pillay
Find out more about COVID-19 vaccination from trusted sources here https://coronavirus.westerncape.gov.za/covid-19-vaccination and https://sacoronavirus.co.za/vaccine-updates/