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COVID-19 Vaccination: Advice for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women

All the discussion about vaccine issues can be scary and confusing. Also, the many, fast changes that are happening with 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.

Any changes to this information will be published by the Messages for Mothers team to this website 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 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.

Will pregnant women get access to the COVID-19 vaccine?

At this time, 5 February 2021, the government has not included pregnant women amongst the priority groups for getting the vaccine. For now, the government recommends that pregnant women should not be given the COVID-19 vaccine because the safety of the vaccine in pregnancy has not yet been fully tested.

If I have recently had the vaccine, and then I find out I’m 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 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 vaccine for you or your baby. 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 women to receive the vaccine?

Studies to test the safety of the vaccine in pregnancy have not yet been completed. Animal studies done so far have shown that it is safe to get the vaccine in pregnancy. In places such as England, governments are making the vaccination available to pregnant health care workers and those with high-risk medical conditions.

If I am pregnant and am offered the vaccine, how should I decide if I should take it?

If the national guidelines change and the vaccine is offered to you as a pregnant woman, you should consider getting the vaccine, especially if you are a healthcare or essential worker or have a high-risk medical condition.

  • 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
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Smokers
  • Having an organ transplant

Some of the benefits of receiving the vaccine include:

  • COVID-19 may be more dangerous in pregnant women, especially towards the end of pregnancy.
  • Vaccination prevents most people from getting the infection of COVID-19.
  • If someone does get infected, vaccination prevents severe illness and death from COVID-19.
  • You won’t get COVID-19 from the vaccination. COVID-19 vaccinations do not contain live coronavirus.

Some of the risks of receiving 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 vaccine are common and can include: sore arm (where the vaccine is injected), fatigue, headaches, muscle pain, fever and joint pain.
  • These side effects are usually mild and only last a few days.

If I am pregnant and fall into a priority group for receiving the vaccine, will I be excluded from receiving the vaccine?

The first priority for getting the vaccine are the health workers, followed by other essential workers. 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 vaccination may well outweigh any possible harmful effects, even if safety information on COVID vaccination in pregnancy is still not available. If you are in a priority group and you are also pregnant, you may ask for vaccination.

Before you get the vaccine, a doctor 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 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 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 vaccination, and so they will have to wait their turn to be vaccinated unless they fall into a priority group (such as health care workers).

Sources:
  • 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.

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