NEWARK — After the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance last month for pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Delaware health officials are looking to increase awareness of the COVID-19 risk during pregnancy.
Dr. Janice E. Tildon-Burton, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at ChristianaCare, said the primary benefit of the COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women is to prevent infection. That will help avoid some of the serious outcomes that can occur if one develops the infection.
Pregnancy is considered an underlying condition by the CDC, as pregnant women have a weaker immune system to fight off possible infection.
“Because pregnant women are immunocompromised, their response to an infection is less robust in many cases than it would be otherwise,” Dr. Tildon-Burton said. “And this is particularly true for women that have comorbidities, such as diabetes, or hypertension or asthma. And some of them will end up on ventilators and some of them will be delivered prematurely and so the benefits are definitely so important that they outweigh, I believe, the risks associated with any vaccine.”
CDC said in its guidance one of the complications from COVID-19 pregnant women risk is pre-term birth or sick newborns who need to be sent straight to the neonatal intensive care unit while other adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as stillbirth, have been reported.
Dr. Tildon Burton said severe illness, respiratory and breathing problems are accentuated during pregnancy which could result in a patient being placed on a ventilator.
“They’re in the ICU, the intensive care, because they need really close monitoring, not only of themselves but of their developing baby and they’re also risking death,” she said. “It does happen and so we will lose two lives if it’s a singleton or only one pregnancy, one fetus developing. If they’re twins or multiples, then we’ve lost several lives and so the complications can be just breathtaking and devastating for everyone involved.”
The COVID-19 vaccine does not affect fertility, Dr. Tildon Burton said.
“Patients have become pregnant after receiving it,” she said. “They have become pregnant without any difficulty, not needing assistance from infertility specialists or medications. I have not heard of in my practice or in those that I communicate with any issue with pregnancy occurring.”
She added the vaccine does not affect DNA either.
“That is not how the vaccine works,” Dr. Tildon Burton said. “And I think misunderstanding about how the vaccine works is giving support to some stories or some concerns that have no validity at this time.”
CDC’s guidance also extends to women trying to become pregnant, as well as those who have recently given birth or who may be breastfeeding.
It does not matter what stage of pregnancy a woman is in while receiving the vaccine, Dr. Tildon Burton said.
“Any stage of pregnancy is the best stage to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said. “As soon as you realize you’re pregnant if you have not gotten it, then get it. If you don’t realize until later that you are pregnant and you are now out of the first trimester or the first 12 weeks, get it. But get it. So, ideally, you’ve gotten it prior to becoming pregnant. But if you have not, then any stage is the best stage.”
Pregnant women are also encouraged to receive a booster shot when eligible.
“It is safe for pregnant women to get the COVID-19 vaccine booster,” Dr. Tildon Burton said. “I encourage all those who are fully vaccinated to get the booster when appropriate.”