COVID-19 Vaccination During Pregnancy Is Safe, Has Multiple Benefits

COVID-19 Vaccination During Pregnancy Is Safe,

SciCheck Digest

Pregnant individuals are better protected from severe COVID-19 by receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccinations can also lower a baby’s early hospitalization risk from COVID-19 when administered during pregnancy. Contrary to claims made on social media and online, a new study strengthens the evidence that vaccinations given to pregnant women are safe for the unborn child.

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People who are pregnant are more vulnerable to severe COVID-19. Additionally, young infants are especially susceptible to COVID-19-related hospitalization. Vaccinating mothers lowers these risks.

Regardless of pregnancy status, the side effects of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine are the same. Studies suggest vaccination may lower the risk of stillbirth and preterm birth, but do not demonstrate an increased risk of miscarriage, birth defects, or other pregnancy complications. The evidence that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe and do not cause issues for newborns and infants when given to their mothers during pregnancy is strengthened by a study published on October 23 in JAMA Pediatrics.

A recent Instagram post asserted that there is “No Discernable Benefit of COVID-19 Vaccination in Pregnancy,” defying the body of evidence that has been available about the virus and pregnancy. The article included a quote from Dr. Peter McCullough, a frequent disseminator of false information about vaccines, from a Substack newsletter. The newsletter highlighted a recent study on vaccine safety published in JAMA Pediatrics, stating that there were “No Assurances on Safety.”

“Why even put moms and babies at risk when the COVID-19 vaccination clearly had no benefits?” The newsletter’s conclusion was false. We contacted McCullough with inquiries, but we never heard back.

This runs counter to the findings of the study’s authors, who stated that “vaccination against COVID-19 maternal mRNA during pregnancy may be protective against adverse newborn outcomes and was not associated with increased adverse newborn and early infant outcomes.”

As co-author Sarah C. J. Jorgensen, a pharmacist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, explained to us, the study was a safety investigation and was not intended to evaluate the efficacy of the vaccine in expectant mothers. The goal of the study was to determine whether there was a higher risk of health issues for the offspring of pregnant women who received vaccinations. “Does provide more reassuring data on the safety of these vaccines for the newborns and infants,” according to Jorgensen, who conducted the study.

Those six months of age and older, including those who are pregnant, should get the most recent version of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This recommendation is supported by additional medical associations such as the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Study Bolsters Evidence for Safety of Maternal COVID-19 Vaccines

McCullough falsely suggested that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant is risky and ineffectual by mishandling two unprocessed data points from the JAMA Pediatrics study. He disregarded the majority of the data demonstrating the safety and efficacy of maternal COVID-19 vaccination, as well as the paper’s main findings that corroborated the vaccine’s safety for infants.

The study made use of the MOMBABY database, which connects the medical histories of expectant mothers and newborns in Ontario, Canada’s hospitals. The results of the study by Jorgensen and her colleagues were derived from data pertaining to over 142,000 babies whose due dates fell between May 2021 and early September 2022.

The babies whose mothers had never received any kind of COVID-19 vaccination before giving birth were compared to babies whose mothers had received at least one dose of the mRNA vaccine during pregnancy.

McCullough falsely cited “crude,” or unadjusted, data that suggested there was a very slight risk of hospital readmission for any reason in infants up to four weeks old whose moms had received vaccinations. But according to Victoria Male, a senior lecturer in reproductive immunology at Imperial College London, the adjusted figure is the right statistic to use to assess whether there is a difference in readmissions. She informed us of this via email. Males were excluded from the study.

Those who choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or not differ greatly from one another. Good research keeps track of the traits shared by members of the groups they are comparing, such as a propensity for healthy behavior or residence in affluent neighborhoods, in order to account for variations.

Pediatrics and internal medicine specialist Dr. Malini DeSilva and statistician Gabriela Vazquez-Benitez sent us an email stating, “The adjusted results, after accounting for differences in the characteristics of the different groups, show no increased risk for neonatal readmission between the two groups.” The two researchers are associated with HealthPartners Institute and focus on vaccine safety in expectant mothers. They were not involved in the study.

According to DeSilva and Vazquez-Benitez, receiving additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy did not appear to increase the risk of neonatal readmission in their study. In addition, the study observed infants for six months and discovered that, irrespective of the mother’s vaccination status, the rate of hospital readmission was the same.

According to Jorgensen and her co-authors, the elevated rates of death and serious health issues in newborns born to unvaccinated mothers may account for the small increased risk of newborn readmission in the crude data. The sickest babies were not included in the analysis of hospital readmissions because they had either passed away or had not left the hospital by the time they turned four weeks old.

Additionally, McCullough’s post neglects to draw attention to the other findings of the study, which show that there is no connection between the vaccinations and adverse effects on newborns.

“The results of the study show that babies born after vaccination during pregnancy actually have better birth outcomes, and this finding holds true even after the authors perform additional analyses to account for the fact that vaccinated families typically have better healthcare overall,” Male stated. The benefits for babies included a decreased chance of serious issues like bleeding or seizures, hospital stays in a neonatal intensive care unit, and even death.

The exact extent to which vaccinations contributed to these decreased risks is unknown. Because maternal vaccination reduces the risk of contracting COVID-19 during pregnancy, it may have contributed to better newborn outcomes. However, the writers

Despite efforts to account for these variables, DeSilva and Vazquez-Benitez suggested that the lower risks of poor newborn health outcomes may be explained by “healthy vaccinee bias,” which holds that persons who receive vaccinations typically lead healthier lives and are more likely to adopt healthy behaviors. Additionally, they mentioned that individuals who give birth early in their pregnancies will have fewer opportunities to receive vaccinations. Babies who are born too early may experience health issues.

The researchers came to the conclusion that, in any case, it is unlikely that vaccination increased the risk of NICU stays, serious health issues, or newborn deaths. Jorgensen stated, “That they are not elevated is at least reassuring.”

McCullough offered additional criticisms of the study’s data. However, Male claimed that he “misunderstands how the MOMBABY database works.” In a mistaken Substack post, McCullough stated that a mother and her child wouldn’t be connected if the mother gave birth at one hospital and then took the child to another “for seizures, hemorrhage, etc.”

According to Jorgensen, the MOMBABY database records every hospitalization that occurs in Ontario, meaning that the mother’s admission to any hospital in the region will be linked to her record. The purpose of the study was not to record clinic visits, which were probably for more minor problems or routine visits.

McCullough concluded by pointing out that stillbirths and miscarriages were not covered in the study. It’s true that this study was not intended to investigate that, Male stated. However, other research has not found a connection between the COVID-19 vaccination and the miscarriage rate. Furthermore, vaccination has been shown to lower the chance of stillbirth.

COVID-19 Vaccination Benefits Mothers and Babies

In what appears to be an attempt to support his claim that vaccines are ineffective during pregnancy, McCullough also cited statistics demonstrating comparable rates of positive COVID-19 PCR test results among women who received vaccinations and those who did not.

But according to Jorgensen, the project “wasn’t designed as a study to look at vaccine effectiveness for pregnant women.” To account for variations between the groups, the COVID-19 test data were presented in a table that detailed the traits of pregnant women who had received vaccinations versus those who had not.

Jorgensen, Male, DeSilva, and Vazquez-Benitez all drew attention to the fact that this study lacked information regarding the timing of vaccinations for the women who tested positive for COVID-19. Male stated, “As a result, we are unable to draw any conclusions from this data regarding the efficacy of the COVID vaccine in preventing infection.”

Research aimed at examining the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine has discovered that it is not significantly different when administered to individuals who are pregnant or not. Booster doses have improved the effectiveness of vaccinations in the omicron era, which have shown considerable protection against severe disease and less protection against symptomatic illness.

Additionally, vaccinations received during pregnancy can transfer antibodies to a baby through the umbilical cord and breast milk, though it’s unclear how much protection the antibodies in breast milk offer. Numerous studies have shown that a mother’s vaccination against COVID-19 during pregnancy is linked to a lower risk of infection and hospitalization during the first six months of a baby’s life, especially during the newborn period.

For example, Jorgensen and colleagues conducted a different study on the effects of maternal COVID-19 vaccination on babies during the first six months of life using the MOMBABY registry. Babies whose moms received at least one dose of the original primary vaccination series during pregnancy had a 45% decreased risk of infection and

Compared to infants of unvaccinated moms, there is a 53% lower chance of hospitalization with omicron. If the mothers received at least one dose in the third trimester, their protection was enhanced. Pregnant women who received a booster dose experienced enhanced protection, with babies using omicron having an 80% lower risk of hospitalization and a 73% lower risk of infection.

According to DeSilva and Vazquez-Benitez, “COVID-19 vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19-related hospitalization and death, regardless of pregnancy status.” “COVID-19 vaccinations administered during pregnancy can provide infants with antibodies against COVID before they are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, in addition to lowering the risks of severe illness from COVID-19 in pregnant persons.”

COVID-19 Vaccination During Pregnancy Is Safe, Has Multiple Benefits

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