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Published on April 05, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine: Pregnancy, Fertility and Women's Health

COVID-19 Vaccine: Pregnancy, Fertility and Women's Health

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for pregnant women? Does the vaccine impact fertility? Chief Medical Officer for Women's Services Carolyn Harraway-Smith, MD, answers these questions and more in this week's 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.

Can the COVID-19 vaccine impact women's chances of becoming pregnant?

“We do hear about that a lot. That's a big question. I don't even know where the. origins are from, but no, the answer is no. We do not believe that the COVID vaccine has any effect at all on a woman's chances of getting pregnant.”

“So the vaccine itself doesn't go into the nucleus (or the ‘brain’ of the cell) and, in fact, the way that the vaccine works is the vaccine goes into the body and the body's immune system (or its army) is activated by these chemicals, and then the army is left to do the fighting, and within 30 days the material from the vaccine is actually gone. So it doesn't go into any part of the cell that changes the nature or the makeup of the cell.”

If you're already pregnant, what effect if any would the COVID-19 vaccine have on the baby?

“So we don't believe that the vaccine has any effect on a growing fetus either. So in patients who are wanting to get pregnant or attempting to get pregnant, the vaccine is still safe. We have seen no adverse effect on those planning to get pregnant, those attempting to get pregnant, those in early pregnancy or those in late pregnancy with the COVID vaccine.

Is it riskier being pregnant with COVID or getting the vaccine while pregnant?

“That's a really good question as well, and the way to answer that is to kind of go back and look at the numbers. So the chances of getting really ill from COVID is not that high in the typical OB patient who is young and healthy. However, if one gets sick from COVID the chances of getting much sicker in pregnancy are a lot greater. So when you add that to someone who might have other what we call comorbidities, or other medical problems like obesity or high blood pressure or diabetes or any other medical conditions, that rate of risk goes up even higher. So when we look at patients who have complications from COVID, a lot of these have these other conditions, but again, when we compare a pregnant versus a non pregnant patient who gets COVID, the chances of having a worse outcome is greater if that mother, if that person is pregnant.”

What should breastfeeding moms know about the COVID-19 vaccine? Should they be getting it?

“So it's safe to get the vaccine while breastfeeding as well. We don't recommend any treatment of a breastfeeding mom that's different from any other patient. We do not believe. That any component of the virus is transmitted through the breastmilk and so it's very safe to get while breastfeeding or while pregnant.”

What advice would you have for those parents-to-be that are still just a little unsure about getting that vaccine?

"So I think one of the reasons that we recommend that if there are questions talk to your doctor, not so that they can give you the permission to take the vaccine versus not take the vaccine, but they may help you to get a better idea of what your actual risk is if you were to get sick.”

“Additionally, one of the things that I think is a benefit that we're finding is when you look at mothers who've actually had a COVID infection, there are plenty of evidence that the actual antibodies or the protective chemicals from the virus are transmitted through the placenta to the mother, and so that's a promising thing. We don't know how much the vaccine will affect that or how long that will last, but that's something that's also very good. The idea that getting the vaccine will also protect the fetus is very promising.”

What should women know about the COVID-19 vaccine and mammograms?

“So I think the most important thing to understand is that the COVID vaccine does not increase the risk of breast cancer at all. There's no evidence to support that. However, some women when they get the vaccine can develop swollen lymph nodes. Remember, I said earlier that the vaccine literally stimulates your body to create an army or antibodies to fight against this virus, and that army is produced in glands called lymph nodes. Those lymph nodes can swell after getting the vaccine, and some of the lymph nodes that can swell are under the arm. Those are called the axillary lymph nodes.”

“This doesn't happen very often, but if it does happen right before a mammogram, then that lymph node may look abnormal and require additional testing. And so we're not necessarily recommending that women not get mammograms at the time of the vaccine. However, if there's any concern about getting additional testing, then you may want to consider getting the mammogram, especially if it's a screening mammogram, 4 to 6 weeks after the vaccine or getting the mammogram before the vaccine just to avoid any additional testing that might be required.” 

“Now, if it's what's called a diagnostic mammogram, so they've seen something from before when you got the vaccine, please don't delay on getting a mammogram that's required for an abnormal finding. But if it's just for a screening mammogram, go ahead and delay that 4 to 6 weeks so that there's not a problem.”

What’s most important to know about the COVID-19 vaccine and women’s health?

“I think it's very important to know that although pregnant women weren't in the initial studies, right now, pregnant women are being put in those studies so we can have more information coming out, but everything that we've seen so far, all the data supports that the COVID vaccine is safe in pregnancy, safe if you're planning to get pregnant, safe in your early pregnancy. And again, one of the more important things is if you are going to get sick from COVID, the chances of getting sick when you're pregnant is greater, so getting that vaccine, especially if you have any chronic medical conditions, is a good idea.”

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