Disclosure: The information in this article is meant for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your health (including the use of vaccines). 

Can I Get A Vaccine While Pregnant?

There has been a lot of talk about vaccines lately, making many people wonder what is safe during pregnancy? And, what are the vaccination recommendations for pregnant people?

When it comes to the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines, the information hasn’t been specific with regard to an important demographic in the population: pregnant people. Lately, recommendations about vaccine eligibility have been shared with the general public, regarding those with underlying health conditions or pertaining to specific age groups. Healthy women, regardless of age, are left wondering: 

  • Can I get a vaccine while pregnant? 
    or
  • Can I get a vaccine while breastfeeding? 

To answer these questions, we look at a few areas: what is the recommendation with COVID-19; what other vaccines are given during pregnancy; a history of vaccines and pregnancy; and are any of these different for breastfeeding mothers? 

Let’s dive in.

What are the current recommendations for vaccinations and pregnancy? 

First off, getting vaccinated is a personal choice. And, before doing anything else, you should have a conversation with your trusted healthcare provider. 

There are some recommendations on what to discuss:

  • The benefits of vaccination
  • Potential allergic reactions and if you can receive treatment for it

There are vaccines given during pregnancy (not speaking about COVID-19 yet, we are getting there). The rationale of any vaccine is to teach the immune system to recognize and destroy foreign germs or viruses. They can protect you and your baby from certain diseases. 

Based on your health and history, your health care provider can tell you which vaccines are recommended for you and which vaccines are safe to get during your pregnancy. 

Recommended vaccines during pregnancy:

  • Influenza (flu), especially during flu season (November to April). This is because the flu can cause extreme illness in pregnant people who cannot take many over-the-counter medications. Also, vaccination with an inactivated flu vaccine lowers the risk for complications from flu during pregnancy and after your baby is born.
  • Other vaccines if not already vaccinated prior to pregnancy, or a need arises for various reasons:
    • Hepatitis B
    • Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (TdaP vaccine)
    • Polio
    • Meningococcal
    • Pneumococcal
    • travel vaccines

The Types of Vaccines + Some Historical Info 

There are actually 2 types of vaccines: inactivated vaccines and live attenuated vaccines

Inactivated vaccines contain parts of killed germs that cannot infect you, such as the flu shot or TdaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis). 

Live attenuated vaccines contain weakened versions of bacteria or viruses so that the antibodies can be built up without infecting you. For example: varicella (chicken pox) and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella). 

The best time to update vaccinations is prior to pregnancy. This is because some vaccinations, such as the live attenuated ones are generally not given during pregnancy. Although if you need it, your health care provider may offer it, if it is safe to do so and you need a vaccination due to high risk of infection.

Inactivated vaccines are generally safe in pregnancy and are often recommended over live ones (due to lack of proven safety in pregnant women). 

Since 2012, tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine has been recommended for pregnant women during the third trimester of each pregnancy to provide protection to the newborn. These are all inactivated vaccines. 

What are the COVID-19 vaccine guidelines for pregnant people?

Given the vaccines are generally new, there is limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people. However, based on how these vaccines work in the body, and what we currently do know, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant. 

There have been studies done on animals with Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, or Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J/Janssen) COVID-19 vaccines during  pregnancy, and no safety issues were found.  

Remembering what we discussed about live vs. inactivated vaccines, however (inactivated ones being most recommended in pregnancy), it is worth considering the types of COVID-19 vaccines that exist. 

According to the CDC: 

“The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are mRNA vaccines that do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19 and, therefore, cannot give someone COVID-19. Additionally, mRNA vaccines do not interact with a person’s DNA or cause genetic changes because the mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept.”

“The J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, meaning it uses a modified version of a different virus (the vector) to deliver important instructions to our cells. Viral vector technology has been used by Janssen for other vaccine development programs.  Vaccines that use the same viral vector have been given to pregnant people in all trimesters of pregnancy, including in a large-scale Ebola vaccination trial. No adverse pregnancy-related outcomes, including adverse outcomes that affected the infant, were associated with vaccination in these trials.”

Ultimately the mRNA vaccines are inactivated versions, and the viral vector ones contain a modified version of a virus (not COVID-19) but something similar. 

Knowing this can help you decide what is best for you, should you choose to get vaccinated. 

The general recommendation for pregnant women is to discuss with your health care provider and cover the following points in counseling prior to getting the COVID-19 vaccine:

  • a review of the risks and benefits of the vaccine
  • a review of the potential risks /consequences associated with a COVID infection during pregnancy
  • a review of the risk of acquiring a COVID infection during pregnancy and
  • an acknowledgment of the insufficiency of evidence for the use of current COVID-19 vaccines in the pregnant population. 

After reviewing the above information with your health care provider, you can choose to get your vaccine. 

What are the guidelines for the COVID-19 vaccines for breastfeeding women? 

The clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized did not include people who are breastfeeding, so there really is limited data here, according to the CDC. 

However, because the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not live vaccines based on how they work, the approved vaccines are not thought to be a risk for breastfeeding infants. 

The official recommendations from health experts and the Ministry of Health say that women “who are pregnant or breastfeeding should be offered vaccination at any time if they are eligible and no contraindications exist.”

Always Seek Your Health Care Provider’s Advice First

In the end, you can do the research and always seek your health care provider’s advice to ensure you understand the possible impacts to your own health and your baby’s. Only you can make the right choice. 

Just like many things in life, an individual’s right to do what they feel is the best for them based on the information they find, is truly the guiding factor. The information we present is simply what we have found and organized, however it’s best to speak to your doctor or health care team to determine your individual approach and path. 

Whatever you decide to do, just know you are doing what is best for you and your baby. You are amazing and going to be a great mom, healthy and strong. You got this. 

References:

  1. Information about COVID-19 Vaccines for People who Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved From: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/pregnancy.html
  2. Vaccination and Pregnancy: Government of Canada. Retrieved From: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/vaccination-pregnancy.html
  3. Covid-19 Vaccination Recommendations For Special Populations: Ministry of Health, Ontario. Retrieved from: https://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/publichealth/coronavirus/docs/vaccine/COVID-19_vaccination_rec_special_populations.pdf
  4. Pregnancy: Immunize BC. Retrieved From: https://immunizebc.ca/pregnancy

Mother of two, foodie at heart, city-loving blogger, writer, marketing specialist, and overall busy-bee: that is Christina Chandra in a nutshell. Christina lives in Vancouver where she is a freelance writer & marketing specialist, and also blogs at ChristinaChandra.com. In her spare time, you can find her exploring local eateries, cafes and hot spots.