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Expert explains impacts of COVID-19 vaccines on pregnancy, fertility

Posted at 5:51 AM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 08:08:38-04

DENVER — As COVID-19 vaccines roll out to greater masses, women are concerned about the impacts the vaccines could have on pregnancies. The conflicting messages from health organizations are adding to the stress.

While data is limited, small preliminary studies show the vaccines could protect babies. But experts warn more studies are needed.

Nearly 100 days ago, the first COVID-19 shot was administered in the United States. Since then, women have wondered how it could impact their pregnancies and fertility.

The University of Washington School of Medicine hosted a webinar with a group of women health experts to shed light on growing concerns. Dr. Alisa Kachikis, a professor in maternal fetal medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center, took part in the panel. She also conducts research on vaccinations during pregnancy.

Dr. Kachikis pointed to the history of vaccine benefits during pregnancies. Women are encouraged to get the influenza vaccine and the Tdap vaccine. The Tdap vaccine is given towards the end of a pregnancy. Dr. Kachikis says the Tdap vaccine gives a boost in antibodies, which will transfer across the placenta and to the fetus.

In a recent study, Israeli researchers found antibodies in the newborns of 20 women who received the Pfizer vaccine during their third trimester of pregnancy, according to a Reuters article. Scientists say the antibodies were transferred through the placenta.

In Florida, a woman who got the Moderna shot gave birth to a baby with COVID-19 antibodies.

Experts say more studies need to be done to determine if the newborns receive enough antibodies for protection and how long it could last.

Jade Campbell gave birth to her first daughter during the pandemic. She hopes to expand her family in the future. She said she spent time researching and weighing her concerns before deciding if she should get the vaccine.

“What are the potential side effects down the track, either breastfeeding- or fertility-wise? Like, is it possible that this will impact my ability to get pregnant?” Campbell said.

While data on the impact on pregnancy is limited, Dr. Kachikis says there is no evidence that shows it’s not safe.

“There is really no reason to think that the vaccines would have an adverse reaction to the pregnancy or cause other side effects like infertility,” Dr. Kachikis said. “You can look at not having data both ways, you can say that there is no data to say that it’s safe, but there is also no data to say that it’s not safe. The vaccine has been very safe in non-pregnant people.”

Kachikis said the rumors of the possibility of birth defects and sterilization in women are just that — rumors.

"There is really no evidence that points to that," she said.

Denver7 asked medical health experts with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about fertility concerns among women and the worries about sterilization.

"To date, we haven’t seen any risk in pregnant women," the doctor responded. "There is no association between infertility problems with these vaccines."

Dr. Kachikis is encouraging pregnant women to get the vaccine, especially if they are considered high-risk if they contract the virus.

“Pregnant people are at a higher risk for adverse events with this infection including needing to be admitted to the hospital, needing to be admitted to the ICU, mechanical ventilation,” Dr. Kachikis said.

Pregnant women are not part of trials due to historical restrictions, which is why data is limited. Since the rollout of the vaccine, scientists have announced plans for new studies.

DART studies are currently underway in mammals to help reveal if there are any negative side effects of the vaccine during pregnancy, according to a UChicago Medicine article. It goes on to say that Moderna submitted a DART study to the FDA done on rats. It concluded the vaccine did not have adverse effects on the reproductive system, fetal development, or postnatal development. At the time of the Pfizer vaccine, 23 participants became pregnant and no adverse effects have been reported, but it experts say more research is needed, according to UChicago Medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't advise or discourage women from getting the vaccine saying, “getting vaccinated is a personal choice.” Experts suggest pregnant people should talk to their doctor before getting the vaccine if they have questions.

The World Health Organization says based on current information, it doesn't have a specific reason to believe the risk outweighs the benefits of the vaccine. It recommends that pregnant women at high risk of contracting COVID-19 or who have comorbidities may be vaccinated as long as they consult their doctor.

Scientists say it’s too early to know if the vaccine can be transmitted through breastfeeding.

Campbell weighed her options and ultimately decided to get the vaccine. She is scheduled to get her shot next week.

“Make the decision that we are most comfortable with and be accepting of other people’s decisions,” Campbell said.