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What to expect from COVID vaccine while you're expecting (or trying)

How does the coronavirus affect pregnant women?
Posted at 7:04 PM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 11:22:36-05

The questions that can come with any pregnancy can be overwhelming; add the COVID-19 pandemic and a new vaccine into the mix, and -- whether a woman is already pregnant or in the process of planning a pregnancy -- the unknowns can seem to outnumber the knowns.

"We've been trying to conceive for three and a half years now," said Anamarie Waite. Waite and her husband, Kevin, want to give their daughter, Amora, a younger brother or sister.

They've been through five rounds of infertility treatments.

"I'm not going to get [the vaccine] if we're back in treatment and actively trying to conceive, but if we do end up getting pregnant, I would like to get the vaccine if it's available to me while I'm pregnant," Anamarie Waite told WCPO.

It's delicate timing to balance for the Waites, one experts say will require careful discussions with their doctor.

No (known) reason pregnant woman shouldn't vaccinate

For Dr. Tina Sosa, pediatrician and new mom, deciding to get the COVID vaccine was a matter of weighing the risks of contracting the virus against the unknowns that still surround the vaccine and could impact the woman, her pregnancy or the baby postpartum.

She got her vaccine when she was 34 weeks pregnant. Weeks later, she delivered a healthy baby boy, Leo, and said she hasn't observed any complications.

"I had to weigh the risks of getting COVID while I was pregnant to getting the vaccine," she said, pointing out that pregnant women who contract the virus are at a higher risk of severe illness and hospitalization.

The World Health Organization in a Jan. 8 post on its website said it does not recommend pregnant women receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, but later said on Jan. 26 that it does not "have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women" to receive the Moderna vaccine. The agency recommended that pregnant women who are at high risk of contracting the virus -- healthcare workers like Sosa, for example -- should receive the vaccine.

Dr. Emily DeFranco, OBGYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, agrees there's no indication either vaccine poses additional risk to women who are pregnant.

"There's no scientific reason to think it would be harmful. We certainly have reason to believe it would be very beneficial," she told WCPO. "With that being said, it hasn't been studied for safety in pregnancy, and you should understand that before you make a decision to take the vaccine."

When it comes to pregnant healthcare workers, specifically, DeFranco said she hasn't encountered one yet who has declined getting the vaccine.

Don't plan growing family around vaccine

As for those planning a family, Dr. Abby Loftus-Smith, an OBGYN with St. Elizabeth Healthcare, says the vaccine is safe to receive while trying to conceive.

"There is no increased risk in early miscarriage in those groups of women; there's no increased risk of infertility in those groups of women," she said.

DeFranco agrees there, too: "I would not advise that there's any reason to feel that you would need to delay attempting to get pregnant," she told WCPO.

Sosa said the decision ultimately is a personal one.

"It needs to be a personal decision for every woman and a discussion with their doctor," she said.

Beyond making the personal decision to get or not to get vaccinated against coronavirus, whether or not there's available supply is another matter. And for a family like the Waites, waiting becomes a less and less acceptable option each day.

"We're already three and a half years into this; we're not getting any younger and my egg quality isn't getting any better. So we just, waiting for the pandemic to end, waiting for the vaccines to be available, is just not something that's an option for us."

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Senior Reporter Larry Seward is focusing his reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine to bring you answers and information. Contact Larry at 513-667-4804 or larry.seward@wcpo.com.