ORLANDO, Fla. – Many young women are forgoing the COVID-19 vaccine because they believe it could negatively affect their fertility and hinder their chances of getting pregnant in the future.
For those who plan to one day start a family, it’s a major concern.
Dr. Rachel Humphrey, the director of perinatology at AdventHealth in Orlando, has heard those worries from patients time and time again.
She sat down with News 6 health reporter and anchor Kirstin O’Connor for a Q&A to dispel that myth and explain what women of child-bearing age should know before getting inoculated.
Kirstin O’Connor: Does the vaccine cause any kind of infertility or problems with fertility, or is there any kind of data to back that up?
Dr. Rachel Humphrey: So I’m so glad you asked and the answer’s “no.” So, there was definitely some misinformation that got spread through social media, that somehow either the vaccine itself, or the immunity that comes from the vaccine could somehow cause infertility or even miscarriages. And so what we know from many women who’ve actually been infected and have natural immunity, as well as people who’ve been vaccinated, is that the immunity or antibodies that you develop are not associated with infertility and don’t cause miscarriage.
KOC: How can you reassure someone that a new vaccine is safe for someone trying to get pregnant?
RH: So certainly pregnancy is a different medical condition for a mom, there are different natural conditions, but what we know is that through multiple studies, through science, that the vaccine works that pregnant women get the same benefits of immunity. What we also know is that the vaccine is not associated with pregnancy complications. So the CDC tracks the women in the United States who have gotten this vaccine in pregnancy, as of today we’ve got over 106,000 women in this country who have been vaccinated with the Moderna or Pfizer mRNA vaccines with no serious negative events associated with the vaccinations and pregnancy, and that also includes women who’ve been vaccinated within 30 days of getting pregnant.
KOC: And I know from personal experience that when you do get your vaccine, they do ask you that question: “Are you pregnant? Are you breastfeeding, right?” And sometimes just that question, can cause a little bit of hesitation.
RH: Right, it’s so true and I think that patients are right to ask and to be concerned, the specific reasons that they ask if you’re pregnant or even breastfeeding is just because they’re tracking very carefully to confirm what we’ve seen thus far --that the vaccine continues to be safe for women with those situations.
KOC: One thing that I have seen brought up and I do think that it’s anecdotal and maybe case specific, is women are talking about getting their periods at different times, maybe right after they’ve had their second dose and they’re wondering if there’s any data about the cycles and syncing up with the vaccine is there anything that you can tell us about that?
RH: So yes, we know how the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines work and there’s no biologic plausibility by which the vaccine itself would change the hormones for a woman or change her cycle. What’s interesting is, it’s amazing when you’re hypervigilant, the things that you’ll kind of notice and glom on to and you may kind of make a connection that doesn’t really exist, it’s just by chance and I think that’s what’s going on in those situations.
KOC: What would you tell one of your patients who is trying to get pregnant, but worried that if they get this vaccine while they’re in those months leading up to getting pregnant, they may have trouble, or they may start to associate the vaccine with that long wait?
RH: Right, absolutely. So I think that’s a much more complicated question, with a very nuanced answer. I think the simple answer is for my many patients who are nurses, physicians, teachers that are really dealing with people that aren’t vaccinated and are at high risk for getting COVID, my answer would be, “Wow. Be reassured. This vaccine has not been shown to cause problems with getting pregnant or holding on to a pregnancy or pregnancy complications, go ahead and get vaccinated.” But I’ve had some people that are in really unique circumstances, they’ve got some very active medical problems, maybe they’re going through some complicated fertility treatments and for those patients I say, “Wow, if it makes you feel better, even though the vaccine is safe from what we know, you can socially distance, take the right steps, other people around can get vaccinated and delay for a period of time until whatever medical challenges you’ve got have passed.”
KOC: And so specifically you’re kind of talking about case by case for fertility patients or patients who are going through IVF, it may be a choice that they make, to not get the vaccine right away while they’re in the midst of a treatment?
RH: I‘ve had patients that even though the data that we have is that the vaccine is safe in the first trimester. I have had patients who said, “You know Dr. Humphrey, I’m waiting until I’m 12 or 13 weeks pregnant to go ahead and start that vaccine.” And I think that that also is very reasonable if you’re willing to take the steps to stay safe before that point because what we do know very clearly is that getting COVID-19 in pregnancy significantly increases the chance for the mom to end up in the hospital, about two times more likely to end up in the hospital, about three times more likely to end up in the ICU, and I certainly have taken care of many women even early in pregnancy in the ICU with COVID-19 in the past year here in Orlando. So we definitely want to make sure that patients are making the right choice to stay safe and to eventually get vaccinated.
KOC: Well that was the next question I have for you. A lot of people are talking about the benefits outweighing the risks, and specifically for pregnant women would you say that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks?
RH: So we know that the vaccine works for pregnant moms, so we know that they’re much less likely to get seriously ill in the hospital. When moms get COVID and are pregnant, they’re much more likely to deliver preterm, they’re more likely to have C-sections so babies are more likely to be in the NICU. So just taking that off the plate is a huge benefit. There’s a further benefit because moms, they get vaccinated during pregnancy, that vaccine stays in the mom’s arm. It doesn’t go through the bloodstream, it doesn’t get to her baby. Her immunity gets to the baby, just like her immunity for many things, and that gives the baby protection after birth, which is an extra perk.
KOC: Is that the same for women who aren’t quite pregnant yet who are thinking about maybe getting pregnant, their immunity before they get pregnant could help the baby in the future?
RH: Absolutely... babies, newborn babies, will have that protection when the moms vaccinated during the pregnancy, more so than if the mom gets vaccinated while breastfeeding. There’s some benefit, there’s some antibodies that come through the breast milk but not exactly the kind that the vaccine works well on. So really during the pregnancy is a unique time to give that baby protection for the first few weeks or months of life while that baby carries mom’s immunity
KOC: Can you talk about vaccines in general and how they are safe during this stage of life?
RH: Right so I’m so glad you brought up the flu and the whooping cough or Tdap vaccines that are routinely given in pregnancy and they’ve been given at pregnancy for many many years routinely in the United States. We have a lot of data on those vaccines showing not only that they’re safe in pregnancy, not associated with any pregnancy complications or newborn complications or anything like that, we also know that they’re incredibly effective at protecting moms, keeping moms alive, actually, and also protecting babies and lowering the chance that a baby could succumb to an infection shortly after birth because the immunity mom gets. And so really, with all that reassuring data, we’re seeing the same thing as well with the COVID vaccine, but I always like to mention to moms that what’s interesting about the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines to me in a sense, when I look at the ingredients, I almost feel like they’re safer than the vaccines that we’ve been giving for many years, because unlike the Tdap and the flu vaccine, there are no additives, there’s no preservatives, there’s no egg component, there’s a low dose of antibiotics in these vaccines. So they’re very, very pure and that’s something that I really like about the COVID-19 Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that I mention to my patients as well.
KOC: Do you recommend the mRNA vaccines to your patients over the J&J?
RH: I’m so glad you brought that up, yes I do. So, the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines have been in wide use since mid-December of last year and the Johnson and Johnson has been much more limited in use and also there was a temporary recall. I don’t recommend the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for my pregnant moms because of the lack of data.
KOC: But we have enough data for the other two?
RH: That’s right. That’s the vast majority of the people, that 106,000 American women that have been vaccinated in pregnancy, that’s almost solely the mRNA vaccine.
News 6 is inviting to submit questions for doctors and other medical experts during our Vaccine Day on Friday, May 7. Find out more here.