WHO has new recommendations for COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy

As more vaccines roll out across Minnesota and around the globe, the World Health Organization has new guidance about getting the Moderna vaccine during pregnancy.

The WHO writes, "While pregnancy puts women at a higher risk of severe COVID-19, the use of this vaccine in pregnant women is currently not recommended, unless they are at risk of high exposure (e.g. health workers).”

Earlier this month, the WHO issued a similar recommendation about the Pfizer vaccine.

“I think it’s significant that they took such a strong stand but I’m not surprised because they’re going to air on the side of being conservative,” KSTP Medical Expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou said.

“The reason for that recommendation isn’t that the vaccines have been shown to be unsafe in pregnant women, it’s that there’s not data to show they are safe in pregnant women. So in the absence of data, they’ve come out saying that unless you’re in a high-risk group — health care workers, essential worker, front-line worker — that you shouldn’t have the vaccines.”

Both the WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that people who are pregnant may get the vaccine if they are at high risk for exposure. While the WHO doesn’t recommend it beyond that, the CDC is less clear.

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CDC guidance suggests those who are pregnant can talk it through with their doctor to make a decision.

KSTP asked Dr. Georgiou what factors pregnant people should consider as they choose whether to get the vaccine.

“Whether you’re getting recommendations from the WHO or CDC, both agree that women who are pregnant that are in high-risk professions because of the environment they’re in, because of the work that they do, should consider getting the vaccine,” she said. “I think you need to step back and realize it’s always a personal decision. Only you can make the decision around the tradeoffs and the risks and the benefits that you’re willing to make.”

She said it’s also important to consider that those who are pregnant are more likely to have a severe infection if exposed to COVID-19.

“We’re in a situation right now where this is a relatively new vaccine, we don’t have good scientific information about its impact on pregnant women,” Dr. Georgiou said. “We believe, based on how it works, it’s safe but we don’t have the science to prove it but we do have the science to prove that COVID-19 can be a serious virus […] so I think that we shouldn’t just focus on what we don’t know about the vaccine, we should remember to focus on what we do know about the seriousness of this virus.”

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are a new type of vaccine, using mRNA.

“There’s no virus, no live virus, no inactivated virus, no dead virus being injected into you,” Dr. Georgiou said. “When you get the vaccination, [mRNA] stays in your body for a very short period of time but just long enough to instruct the muscle cells in your arm to start making spike protein, which triggers your immune system to start making the antibody.”

The CDC said it doesn’t expect pregnant people will experience different side effects from the general population. The agency also recommends that those who are pregnant with a history of severe allergic reactions, talk to their doctor before getting the vaccine.

The Minnesota Department of Health writes on its website, in part, “Some studies are going on right now and data may be available soon. From the data we do have, there has not been an effect from the vaccine on pregnancy or pregnancy outcomes. There were vaccine study volunteers who were vaccinated and then learned they were pregnant. The manufacturer will follow these individuals throughout the pregnancy and birth.”