When COVID-19 vaccines became available to health care workers, Maggie Sweeney, MD, had a decision to make: As a new mom who is breastfeeding a five-month-old, should she get vaccinated?
As an obstetrician and gynecologist at our Bloomington Clinic, she knew the answer was ‘yes.’ Pictured above is Dr. Sweeney shortly after receiving her vaccine, along with her son.
Risks vs. benefits
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends the new COVID-19 vaccines not be withheld from pregnant or lactating mothers. Instead, they should be available and used depending on other factors, like rate of community spread in a person’s area, health status and occupation.
“I know that I’m interacting with patients who are or could be COVID-positive at work. That puts me at risk for contracting this potentially dangerous infection, so I wanted to protect myself and my family,” Dr. Sweeney said. “Generally, most non-live vaccines are safe for pregnant and breast feeding women, and there is no reason to think otherwise with the COVID-19 vaccines.”
Plus, even though we don’t have data yet, it is likely that the antibodies that I start producing could be passed along to my child, potentially providing him with protection as well,” she said.
There’s no specific data on whether vaccines impact pregnancy, birth outcomes or infant development because pregnancy excluded people from clinical trials. However, the mRNA that teaches the body the fight COVID-19 is taken up by cells quickly and is unlikely to cross the placenta, which is why the theoretical risk to mom or baby is low.
$2M to monitor vaccine safety
“All data suggests that the vaccines should be safe — we don’t have evidence of any specific risks,” Elyse Kharbanda, MD, recently told the Star Tribune in an interview about two COVID-19 vaccine monitoring projects she’s leading. “It’s just that we need to do these studies in order to have the evidence.”
She and her team at HealthPartners Institute received more than $2 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct surveillance that will help determine whether the preventive shots have any impact on pregnancy and birth.
The projects will involve the eight other large health systems that make up the Vaccine Safety Datalink, a research network that conducts post-marketing surveillance of vaccines licensed and used in the United States. HealthPartners Institute will jointly lead the projects with a researcher from Yale University and collaborate with Children’s Minnesota.
As part of a 5-year project, Dr. Kharbanda and colleagues will analyze health care data from the participating health systems to evaluate the risk of adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes following COVID-19 vaccination in pregnant women. The researchers will also review data to better understand whether vaccines impact the development of infants.
A second 3-year project will similarly analyze health care data to evaluate risk of stillbirth and miscarriage following COVID-19 vaccination in pregnant women.
As part of the Vaccine Safety Datalink, HealthPartners Institute has participated in numerous similar post-marketing surveillance studies for other vaccines and has lead prior studies on pertussis and influenza vaccines in pregnancy. Findings typically are shared with the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices to guide vaccine recommendations.
Dr. Kharbanda added, “Vaccines will be the best way to overcome this pandemic, and these projects are part of the process of ensuring the vaccines in-use are effective and safe.”