If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, here's everything you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines
Brought to you by the HSE
Here's everything you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy.
COVID-19 presented a number of challenges for any woman who has been pregnant or breastfeeding over the last year-and-a-bit, and it's still a big source of worry for some expectant parents.
And now, with the vaccine rollout well underway, a lot of women might still have questions surrounding their own personal vaccine choice.
We spoke to Dr Cliona Murphy, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist in the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, about the COVID-19 vaccine and how it affects women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or hoping to get pregnant in the near future.
If you want more information on COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy, you can visit hse.ie.
The COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for pregnant women in Ireland, and the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) are currently being offered to this group. The HSE recommends pregnant women receive their first dose at or after 14 weeks of pregnancy, and the second dose should be before the end of 36 weeks.
Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine not only reduces your own chance of becoming very unwell from COVID-19, it also reduces the chance of complications for your baby. Dr Cliona Murphy from the HSE says vaccine trials and data from the vaccine rollout show positive evidence for pregnant women and for their babies.
"Now we've very good evidence that pregnant women mount a good immune response [from the vaccine], that it's as effective for pregnant women as it is for non-pregnant women.
"We also know those antibodies can be passed on to the baby and that's protection for the baby in the same way that the whooping cough vaccination is protection for babies, so we're getting very reassuring data on the vaccination that we wouldn't have found in early 2020."
If you choose not to get the vaccine, COVID-19 may be a risk to your health and your baby's health. While many pregnant women who get COVID-19 do get mild symptoms and go on to give birth as planned, you are more likely to get unwell and need intensive care treatment than a woman who isn't pregnant.
Dr Murphy says that initial strains of the variant weren't considered to be harmful to pregnant women who were otherwise healthy, but new variants of the virus pose a higher risk to pregnant women than previous strands.
"As it's evolved, we could see that even healthy women in their 20s and 30s could end up being quite sick just because they were pregnant as opposed to any other underlying condition.
"That really has been a concern and as the virus has changed, we could see that in 2021, compared to in 2020, again the risks of the B117 and other variants seem to be worse for pregnant women than the original strain."
You can still get a COVID-19 vaccine if you are breastfeeding, and it will protect you from getting seriously unwell due to COVID-19. If you are under the age of 50 it's recommended that you get one of the mRNA vaccines - either the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine or the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr Murphy says breastfeeding women who receive a COVID-19 vaccine may be protecting their baby from getting the virus too.
"Women who are breastfeeding shouldn't feel the need to stop breastfeeding [if they get the vaccine]. If anything, it's a good thing to be passing antibodies on to the baby.
"I guess one of the thing people have said would be 'Is there a worry of passing the vaccine on to the baby?'. No, it's the antibodies only. The vaccine goes into your arm, it helps your body make antibodies against COVID but the vaccine itself doesn't spread around the body, it doesn't go into the placenta or go into the baby itself."
There's no evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility, and you shouldn't put off receiving the vaccine because you're hoping to get pregnant. You don't need to leave any gap between getting the vaccine and trying for a baby, or accessing fertility treatments.
"Since the full vaccine rollout in various countries, there's no difference in the number of pregnancies in people who have been vaccinated versus the general public. So, certainly as clinicians, we've no evidence or no concern that there is an impact on fertility," Dr Murphy says.
In fact, Dr Murphy says that getting COVID-19 itself poses more risks for those hoping to get pregnant.
"We do have evidence and there are various papers showing that COVID itself can affect male sperm count, and obviously we do know about the long-haul effects of COVID-19 itself.
"So certainly, we would feel that anybody thinking of having a pregnancy or going down the fertility route should get vaccinated in the same way that you would do other health checks."
For trusted information on the COVID-19 vaccines, visit hse.ie.
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COVID-19 vaccines are working, reducing the amount of serious illness caused by COVID-19. If you’re pregnant or considering pregnancy, visit hse.ie for answers you can trust about the COVID-19 vaccine, or talk to your midwife, obstetrician or GP.
Every vaccine makes a difference #ForUsAll
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