Vaccine feelings vs. facts
Probably one of the quickest ways to start an argument in a room full of parents is to mention the word vaccine. There are strong opinions about immunization, and when you’re talking about pregnancy, they can get even more intense. At Mae, we believe in making medical decisions based on scientific evidence. It’s not about anecdotes or social media posts, but decades of research that give an accurate picture of risks and benefits. Lean on your care team. They should provide you with facts and experience, help you talk through your concerns, and support you in making healthy choices for your family.
Why get vaccinated?
We know that the immune system changes during pregnancy, which makes pregnant people more likely to get certain illnesses like flu, Listeria, herpes, or measles. These infections can be more severe than usual and also cause pregnancy complications, birth defects, or even miscarriage. Babies are more vulnerable to infections as well, since their immune systems aren’t fully developed.
We know that receiving vaccines before and during pregnancy helps protect pregnant people from getting sick and possibly infecting their infants. It also allows mothers to transfer their disease-fighting antibodies directly to babies before they are born.
We also know that “inactivated” vaccines against flu, pertussis (whooping cough), and other infections, don’t contain any live viruses and can’t give you the actual disease. We don’t have the same mountain of research about their safety for pregnant people as we do for everybody else. Clinical trials usually don’t include people who are pregnant, and newer vaccines may have fewer studies. But for several vaccines, we have strong medical evidence over many decades that they are effective and don’t harm either pregnant people or their babies.
Which vaccines are safe?
The CDC recommends getting two vaccines during every pregnancy: the flu shot (the injection, not the nasal spray) and the Tdap, a combination vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Millions of pregnant people have received these vaccines, and the evidence shows they are safe.
Vaccines that contain whole bacteria or viruses that have been weakened – “live attenuated vaccines” – are usually not recommended during pregnancy. In theory, there is a risk that shots like human papillomavirus (HPV), measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), or yellow fever could be harmful to a developing baby. If you are planning to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to check that your vaccinations are up to date or have an immunity test. Then talk to your doctor about getting any necessary shots in advance.
However, if you received one of these vaccines before finding out that you were pregnant, don’t worry! Thousands of pregnant people have been in this situation, and there is actually no evidence of any harm. The restriction on these vaccines is really just a precaution since doctors need more research to be sure they are safe.
What about that mercury thing?
You might have heard concerns that some vaccines contain mercury. Actually, it’s a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal used to prevent contamination. We all know that high levels of mercury are dangerous, and there have been questions about whether small amounts of thimerosal could be harmful or cause problems for babies’ development. Many medical studies over the past two decades have found no evidence of this. But in the late 1990’s, the FDA began working to get rid of the preservative anyway. It was removed or reduced to trace amounts in most shots, and others are now available in thimerosal-free formulas.
Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The biggest vaccine question right now is, of course, COVID-19. Pregnant people have a higher risk of getting severely sick with COVID-19, which is increased by health conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Since the Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines are very new, there isn’t a lot of data yet about receiving them during pregnancy. But we do have evidence from thousands of people who have been vaccinated while pregnant with no safety issues, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant people have access to the shots. None of the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility or make you contagious to others.
These days, we are all pretty familiar with the idea of risk and disease. Like many health decisions, prenatal vaccination is a personal calculation. Is the danger to you and your baby’s health from preventable illnesses greater than the potential risk of getting vaccinated? This is a conversation to have with your OB-GYN or midwife and your family. Know that there is a great deal of medical evidence showing us that vaccines safely reduce the risk of certain illnesses. Your doula can help make sure your provider hears your concerns and answers your questions, so you and your baby can stay healthy.
Interested in how a doula can support your individual healthcare decisions? Learn more at meetmae.com.