Can you get vaccinated while pregnant? Vaccination during pregnancy is crucial for your protection and that of your baby. During pregnancy, you’re more susceptible to illness as your immune system weakens because your body protects your baby too. You can attribute this to changes in both hormone levels and immune system function.
There are many questions regarding which vaccines are safe to take during pregnancy. I trust that you will find some answers here today.
What vaccines are safe during pregnancy?
Some vaccines are both safe and recommended during pregnancy. The reason for this is that your body produces antibodies as a response to the vaccines. This not only protects you but also crosses the placenta to your baby, giving them the antibodies needed for protection from serious diseases early in life. This is especially important when your baby is still too young to receive certain vaccines.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) give clear guidelines for vaccinating pregnant women. The recommended vaccines during pregnancy are the inactivated flu vaccine and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.
These vaccines considered safe to use are inactive vaccines, which means they don’t contain the live virus. Thus they cannot make you ill with the virus. Your doctor may consider other vaccines if the risk of being infected with that disease is high.
COVID vaccine and pregnancy
Many questions have recently been asked about whether you should take the COVID vaccine during pregnancy. Currently, the CDC and ACOG (American College for Obstetricians and Gynecologists) advise that health care and frontline essential workers may choose to take it. If you contract COVID-19 while pregnant, there is a risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes; you’re also more likely to end up in hospital needing breathing support.
Although none of the vaccine trials specifically included pregnant women as a target group initially, some women in the studies fell pregnant. These women were being monitored and none of them showed any side effects for their babies as of the time this article was published.
While the data to guide vaccine decision-making was lacking, this is not the case now. Recently, ACOG conducted a cohort study of the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine on pregnant women. The COVID-19 mRNA vaccines generated robust humoral immunity in pregnant with similar immunogenicity observed in non-pregnant women. Vaccine-induced immune responses were even greater than the response to natural infection.
There are 2 things you should know about the vaccine:
- They don’t contain the live virus and thus cannot give you COVID-19.
- The antibodies generated as a response to a vaccine can pass to an unborn baby through the placenta hence protecting your baby after birth.
Based on this knowledge, countries like the US have given pregnant women the go-ahead, so you may choose to get the vaccine. Until recently, The UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) recommended that pregnant women wait for additional evidence to support the use of the COVID vaccine in pregnancy. With data showing around 90,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated, mainly with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, without any safety concerns being raised in the US, pregnant women have been given the go ahead. JCVI states, “There’s no evidence to suggest that other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women, but more research is needed.”
It would still be best to discuss this with your health care provider and follow the recommendations given for your specific circumstances.
Flu vaccine for pregnant women
Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy, some more obvious than others. The changes in your immune system, lung, and heart function increase your risk of contracting diseases such as flu. Chances of having complications caused by flu, especially in later pregnancy stages, are also higher.
Common complications include bronchitis, which could develop into pneumonia. If you contract flu while pregnant, it may also cause premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, or death.
The flu vaccine has been proven safe for any stage during pregnancy. Understandably, you might have some concerns regarding the risks of receiving the flu vaccine during pregnancy. A study was done on the risks for adverse obstetric events after receiving the vaccine, which identified no concerning dangers. There have also not been any unusual complications in pregnancy or the baby’s outcome after receiving the flu vaccine. Studies have shown that receiving the flu vaccine during pregnancy cuts the risk of stillbirth by half.
When should you receive the flu vaccine? It is best to receive the flu shot in autumn, irrespective of how far along you are. Ideally, it should be before the flu starts circulating, as it takes around 2 weeks to build up the required antibodies. That said, if you missed getting it early in the season, you could still receive it later on.
The Tdap vaccine in pregnancy
Why is the Tdap vaccine important during pregnancy? Tdap stands for tetanus (T), diphtheria (D), and pertussis (aP).
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a severe disease that can last 2-3 months. The “whoop” in the name refers to the sound made when an ill person is forced to gasp for air.
Babies under 1 are most at risk. Most babies who contract it become very ill and need hospitalization and in many cases, they die. One such baby is Riley Hughes, who died at just 32 days of age.
Pros and cons of getting the whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy
An observational study on the pertussis vaccine’s safety in around 20,000 women in the UK found no evidence of risks for both baby and pregnant women. The vaccine is highly effective in protecting babies in their first few weeks of life until they can receive the vaccine themselves at 8 weeks old.
The cons of the vaccine are minute in comparison to the pros. The most common side effect is that it may cause redness and swelling at the injection site, and you may get a low-grade fever.
Can the Tdap shot cause stillbirth? The short answer is no. The whooping cough vaccine has been extensively studied and has repeatedly been proven safe.
Do you need the Tdap with each pregnancy?
Yes, it would be best if you got the Tdap vaccine during every pregnancy. It maximizes the protection that you pass to each baby. Research shows that babies born to vaccinated mothers have a high level of protection against whooping cough. These babies had a 91% reduction in risk in their first weeks of life compared to babies whose mothers had not been vaccinated. You can get the Tdap vaccine at anytime from 16 weeks up to birth.
Can pregnant women get a tetanus shot? Yes, the Tdap shot protects you against pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus. As discussed, this is one of the recommended vaccines during pregnancy.
Which vaccines in pregnancy can be given at the same time?
Your care provider can administer the flu and whooping cough vaccines at the same time. However, you don’t have to wait for the whooping cough vaccine until later in your pregnancy, like the seasonal flu shot. You can also get the vaccines at different visits. If you are pregnant during flu season, you should get the flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible.
When you receive these 2 vaccines during pregnancy, it offers some protection to your baby as your antibodies pass through the placenta. These vaccines cannot be administered at birth, so being born with antibodies is an excellent source of protection.
During all 3 of my pregnancies, my doctor and I discussed which vaccines I should get. With my firstborn, I received the Tdap and flu vaccines at the same time. In South Africa, the flu vaccine is usually available from March (which is fall in the southern hemisphere). Since I was in my 2nd trimester, it was also an appropriate time to receive the Tdap. I had no reactions and the site of injection on my arm did not swell or hurt. I hardly felt it.
The prenatal vaccine schedule can vary. With my 2nd and 3rd pregnancies, I also received both vaccines but at different times. The Tdap was at the beginning of my 3rd trimester again with no reactions. However, I got the flu vaccine quite late in my pregnancies. Both my girls were born in April, so I was 8 months pregnant when it was available.
My doctor advised me to get the flu vaccine even if so late in my pregnancies since I would pass some antibodies to them before birth. They would be too tiny and susceptible to getting the flu. Myself getting vaccinated would give them means to fight off the influenza virus because they were still too young to receive the vaccines for that year’s flu season. With my 3rd pregnancy, my arm was sensitive, red, and a bit swollen for about 2 days, but I had no other reactions.
What vaccines can you not get during pregnancy?
Vaccines that contain a live version of the virus are usually not recommended during pregnancy. Although there’s no evidence that the live vaccines may cause congenital disabilities in babies, there is a potential risk of infections passing to your unborn baby. As mentioned before, your doctor may advise that you receive one of these vaccines in some cases. But this would only be in cases where the risk of infection outweighs the risks associated with the vaccine.
Live vaccines not recommended during pregnancy include:
- MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine
- BCG (tuberculosis) vaccine
- Oral polio vaccine
- Oral typhoid vaccine
- Yellow fever vaccine
- HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine
- Live influenza vaccine
Getting MMR vaccine while pregnant
The CDC strongly advises against pregnant women getting MMR vaccine since it’s prepared with weakened (attenuated) live viruses. Women of childbearing age should avoid getting pregnant for at least 4 weeks after receiving the MMR vaccine. If you’re planning a pregnancy, your doctor will do a blood test to check your level of immunity against German measles (rubella). If your antibody count is too low, they may advise you to get a rubella booster. This should be done at least 4 weeks before you conceive.
If you get rubella or are exposed to rubella while you’re pregnant, contact your doctor immediately. Rubella during pregnancy carries enormous risks, especially if you contract it in the first 3 months of your pregnancy. Maternal infection by rubella can cross to your unborn baby, causing congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).
CRS can cause a miscarriage, stillbirth, or severe congenital disabilities. Some of the most common congenital symptoms include blindness, deafness, heart damage, learning disabilities, developmental delays, growth retardation, liver, and spleen damage.
Your health care provider can also recommend other vaccines. I want to share with you information about them and their safety during pregnancy.
Is the hep B vaccine safe during pregnancy?
The Hepatitis B vaccine is not routinely advised in pregnancy. However, if you are at high risk of contracting it and have tested negative, your doctor might advise you to receive it. The recommendation is based on personal circumstances. This is to protect you and your baby before and after birth. It is administered in 3 doses. The second and third doses are given at 1 and 6 months, respectively.
Can you get the meningitis vaccine while pregnant?
The meningitis vaccines protect you against the bacteria causing meningitis. The types covered by vaccines are types A, B, C, W, and Y. There are 2 meningococcal meningitis vaccines. Meningococcal ACWY may be used if needed. Meningococcal B should instead be postponed until after pregnancy. However, the decision should be based on the risk of infection versus the benefit of vaccination individually. With that in mind, your doctor may advise that you get it in some cases.
Travel vaccines during pregnancy
It is best to avoid traveling to countries or areas where extra vaccinations are required. If you really need to travel to one of these areas, discuss this with your health care provider, who will compare the risk of infection with the risk of receiving the vaccine.
For instance, the yellow fever vaccine is a live vaccine and thus not recommended during pregnancy. However, most people who contract a severe case of yellow fever die from it. Therefore, if you are traveling to a high-risk area, your health care provider might advise that you get it.
Make sure to discuss your prenatal vaccine schedule with your health care provider at your next appointment. They will advise on which vaccines to get and when the best time to get them would be.