COVID-19 vaccine presents a choice for pregnant women, UVA doctors say

A patient receives a vaccine.
A patient receives a vaccine.(WVIR)
Updated: Dec. 15, 2020 at 2:22 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - As the first COVID-19 vaccinations in central Virginia and across the country are celebrated, the decision to get a vaccine could be a tougher one for several specific groups like pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, and severe allergic reactions.

UVA doctors say that while those choices are valid, they might be easier than originally thought.

“It’s a tricky question right now,” UVA OBGYN Dr. Christian Chisholm said. “They’re based on viral RNA. Hypothetically, they shouldn’t cause any risk of complications with the pregnancy, but the honest answer is we just don’t know yet.”

However, infectious disease specialists like UVA’s Dr. William Petri say given the type of vaccine, which does not contain live virus, there should not be a problem in pregnant or breastfeeding women. Still, it’s a choice for every woman to make.

“The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has come out with a statement saying that every pregnant woman should decide for herself whether to get the vaccine or not,” Petri said. “It’s not a live, attenuated virus. It’s not dissimilar to lots of vaccines that are safely given in pregnancy. The only hesitation is that there have not been very many pregnant women that have received the vaccine.”

Petri says last week’s reports of issues in people suffering from severe allergic attacks should not stop people from getting the vaccine either, they will just need to be monitored a little bit longer after receiving the shot.

“If you’ve ever had anaphylaxis, which is when you develop shock, like after like getting a bee sting or eating a peanut, then you need to be observed for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine,” Petri explained. “In general, everybody that gets a vaccine should be observed at the doctor’s office or CVS for 15 minutes. So, twice as long.”

While vaccines are often an issue for immunocompromised people, they should also be fine, because of the type of vaccine. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine carry no virus particles at all. Instead, it just contains messenger RNA, carrying no risk of infection.

“If your immune system is not working perfectly normally, we don’t know how well you’ll be protected, but it’s not a reason not to get the vaccine,” Petri said.

In fact, Petri says there’s only one group that shouldn’t get the vaccine as soon as possible: people who have received antibody treatments recently.

“You shouldn’t get the vaccine for about 30 to 90 days after you’ve gotten those antibodies because the antibodies will interfere with the vaccine take,” Petri explained.

Dr. Petri also says that if you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, you should still get the vaccine, because doctors don’t know how long viral immunity lasts at this point.

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