When the COVID-19 vaccines were first announced, some experts were concerned because the vaccine had not been tested on pregnant women. Besides the fear of unforeseen complications, the revelation underscored how patriarchal assumptions still define our health care industry.
As it turns out, the specific concerns about these particular vaccines appear to have been unfounded. A new study finds that pregnant persons do not need worry about the COVID-19 vaccine disrupting your pregnancy. In contrast, COVID-19 infection during pregnancy appears to be much, much more dangerous.
That was the conclusion reached by scientists in a report co-led by researchers from Yale University, which was published earlier this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In light of ongoing concerns about possible COVID-19 vaccine side effects, the researchers analyzed more than 40,000 pregnant individuals and found that there was no evidence of the vaccine being in any way harmful to a pregnancy.
By contrast, they cited existing data which proves that "pregnant women with COVID-19 are at increased risk for severe illness and adverse birth outcomes," even though there remains significant vaccinate hesitancy due to concerns about issues during pregnancy.
The bottom line: A pregnant woman — like the rest of the population — puts herself and her unborn child at far, far more risk by not getting a COVID-19 vaccine than by getting one.
That alone is not new information. Previous studies have affirmed the dangers of being pregnant and unvaccinated during the pandemic. After comparing childbirth outcomes for more than 869,000 women between March 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021 — based on whether or not they had developed COVID-19 — researchers found that infected women were more likely to have premature births, require intubation and be admitted into an intensive care unit. They were also more likely to die during their childbirth experience: 0.1 percent of mothers who were infected died in the hospital, compared to 0.01 percent of mothers who were not infected.
In this latest study, researchers reviewed the medical information from the 40,000 patients, taking into account their varying levels of vaccination. Scientists found no evidence of any connection between whether someone had taken a vaccine and whether their baby had been born prematurely or been too small for its gestational age.
"CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for women who are pregnant, recently pregnant, who are trying to become pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the future," the agency concluded.
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Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines can cause side effects. Previously, there have been reports of people who menstruated, or used to menstruate, experiencing unexpected changes to their cycles after being given their shots. Some trans people who were on gender-affirming hormones, those using long-acting reversible contraception, or who were postmenopausal reported bleeding after having not had that happen in a while. Among "people who expected to menstruate," the reports ranged from everything being normal to periods that were absent and late or heavy and early.
One of the challenges of vaccine testing is that clinical trials often do not adequately address potential women's health concerns, as Salon previously reported.
"Anytime you're including women in a clinical trial or a study design, it needs to be a part of the thinking," Kathryn Schubert, President and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research, told Salon previously." Standard questions are more along the lines of, 'If you're a person of reproductive age, are you on birth control?' or 'Could you be pregnant?'"
Because vaccines produce temporary inflammatory effects in the cells near the injection to induce an immune response, side effects typically include redness and tenderness in that area after you are given a shot. You can also experience soreness and stiffness around your muscles, as well as discomfort and swelling around the nearby lymph nodes. Sometimes a patient will even experience a fever as their body reacts to the shot. However, the most serious side effects — such as an allergic reaction or Guillain-Barré Syndrome, nerve damage due to inflammation — are much more rare.
"Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is important for preventing severe illness in pregnant people," Heather Lipkind, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said in a statement. "With the increasing rates of COVID-19 in our community we are encouraging pregnant people to get vaccinated."
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