New study suggests Covid-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women

by | Apr 6, 2021

To jab or not to jab? There’s good news for pregnant women on the Covid-19 vaccine front, writes Tennille Aron.

As a pregnant woman or breastfeeding mother, is it safe to take the Covid-19 vaccines? Despite all the vaccination research that has been done, this has remained an unanswered question … until now.

A new study released in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology has found that two of the vaccines currently available are safe for pregnant and lactating women and may even provide some protection to their children.

At the time of writing there have been more than 1.5 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in South Africa, with about 270 000 people who have been vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and that number continues to grow every day. However, while many people are anxiously awaiting the day when they will be called up for their vaccines, there is one group of people who are still uncertain about whether they should take the vaccines available.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women have been on the fence about whether they should take the vaccine due to lack of research on the effects of the vaccines on them and their babies, however, a new study recently released sheds some light on the matter. This study shows that not only are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines safe for all the pregnant and breastfeeding women, but it may also provide protection to their unborn babies.

In this study, which was published on 25 March 2021, a group of 131 women were voluntarily vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and their blood studied thereafter. Of this group, 84 were pregnant, 31 were lactating and 16 were not pregnant.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which give the cells of the body instructions on how to create a protein that triggers an immune response in the body. The immune response triggers the creation of the antibodies that protect the body from getting infected when the actual virus enters the body.

They are also vaccinations that require two doses and so blood samples were collected from the women in the study after they were administered the first and second dose of the vaccine, and then again six weeks after.

The results revealed that the immune response produced in the pregnant and lactating women was similar to that of the non-pregnant women, with the pregnant women producing similar amounts of antibodies in response to the administration of the vaccine. The pregnant women also displayed similar side-effects to those of the non-pregnant women in the study.

These results show that not only does the vaccine appear to be safe for pregnant women, but it also protects pregnant women against Covid-19 by allowing them to produce antibodies against the virus. While this is a relatively small sample size, it does set the groundwork for bigger studies.

However, this was not the only interesting discovery from this study. Antibodies were found in the umbilical cord blood and breast milk of the pregnant and lactating women in the study. This is exciting news, as it means that there is potential for these antibodies to be passed onto the unborn or breastfeeding child through the umbilical cord and breast milk.

While further investigation will need to be done to find out if it does provide protection to the child and for how long, these results are promising.

In South Africa, the vaccination rollout plan has already begun, with many healthcare workers receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. No research has yet been done into the effectiveness of this vaccine on pregnant and lactating women, however this research is certainly on the horizon.

Guest Editor Reevana Govender
Guest Editor Reevana Govender
As someone who has personally been affected by the loss of a loved one through covid and as a healthcare worker who has already been vaccinated, I am so excited and optimistic about the new research on the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women.