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Malaysia is starting the Phase 2 of the COVID-19 National Immunisation Programme, which will prioritise the elderly, those with morbidity problems and people with disabilities. Despite the best effort from many parties, the registration rate for COVID-19 vaccination is still low. One of the concerns linger among the vaccine-hesitant communities is the effects of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant, breastfeeding women, as well as women who plan to conceive.
Let’s just address the elephant in the room: should pregnant women take the jab? Will there be any side effects that could harm both the mother and baby?
Such questions, just like any other questions in the medical field, are best answered by the implementation of clinical trials. At the time of writing, no study to date has specifically evaluated the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant and lactating women. In other words, we don’t have enough data to inform us how safe the COVID-19 vaccine is in such a population. This DOES NOT mean that COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, it’s just that we don’t know its safety for sure.
With that being said, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that pregnant women who choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccines can receive it, with the prerequisite of consulting their respective doctors first. Malaysia’s Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba stated that pregnant women should get clearance from their specialists prior to receiving the jab. The specialist will evaluate each pregnant woman’s health status and weigh the risks and benefits of receiving COVID-19 vaccine.
Although we have insufficient data regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant and breastfeeding women, scientists have done some preliminary tests to answer that question, at least partially. Scientists tested the COVID-19 vaccines on animals (known as developmental and toxicity studies) in the laboratory and found that there’s no negative impact on reproduction and the development of babies in the womb.
But knowing that COVID-19 vaccines are safe in pregnant animals won’t be enough–that’s why clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines in the pregnant population have been initiated. E.g. Pfizer-BioNTech is currently evaluating their COVID-19 vaccine in 4,000 healthy pregnant women 18 years of age or older during 24 to 34 weeks of pregnancy over a period of 7 to 10 months. Malaysia’s Health Ministry also formed an expert committee that would specifically look into the risks and safety of administering the COVID-19 vaccine to pregnant women.
The answer is: No, it won’t. Unfortunately, there were confusions around this issue circulating on the internet, saying that the spike protein on this coronavirus was the same as another spike protein called syncitin-1 that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The false report said that getting the COVID-19 vaccine would cause a woman’s body to fight this different spike protein and affect her fertility.
This is not true at all. The spike proteins on the coronavirus are completely different from the spike protein involved in pregnancy, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine WILL NOT affect the fertility of women who are seeking to become pregnant, including through in vitro fertilization methods. During the Pfizer vaccine tests, 23 women volunteers involved in the study became pregnant, and the only one in the trial who suffered a pregnancy loss had not received the actual vaccine, but a placebo.
It’s understandable that many expecting parents are worried about the safety of taking COVID-19 vaccine. However, consider the consequences of being infected by COVID-19. Pregnant patients are more susceptible to the severe form of COVID-19 than non-pregnant women, which means they’re more likely to experience intensive care admission and mechanical ventilation. They’re also more likely to die compared to pregnant women who are not infected. Additionally, pregnant people with COVID-19 might be at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth, compared with pregnant women without COVID-19. If the pregnant women have other medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure; or are working as frontliners, the risks of catching/being harmed by COVID-19 infection are even higher.
Considering all these harmful effects of COVID-19 infection, that’s why if you’re pregnant and your specialist recommends that you take COVID-19 vaccine, you should probably take it. The side effects and safety concerns of COVID-19 vaccine may be pale in comparison to the actual health risks posed by COVID-19 infection.
If you’re pregnant, or your loved one is pregnant, consider discussing these with the specialist:
How likely is the pregnant individual to be exposed to COVID-19?
Risks of COVID-19 to pregnant individual and the potential risks to the baby
What is known about the vaccine:
how well it works to develop protection in the body
known side effects of the vaccine
limited data on the safety of COVID-19 during pregnancy, because it was not studied among pregnant people
If you have any enquiries related to COVID-19 and its vaccines, you can consult our COVID-19 Task Force, which consists of professional doctors and healthcare professionals, for FREE!
For more information about COVID-19 vaccination programme in Malaysia, visit https://www.vaksincovid.gov.my/
Disclaimer: COVID-19 is a novel disease. The information and scientific evidence of its development and vaccines are changing as we speak. Some content of this article may be outdated in the future. We encourage you to always speak with a healthcare professional you trust for the latest updates on COVID-19 and its vaccines.
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Allotey, J., Stallings, E., Bonet, M., Yap, M., Chatterjee, S., Kew, T., Debenham, L., Llavall, A., Dixit, A., Zhou, D., Balaji, R., Lee, S., Qiu, X., Yuan, M., Coomar, D., Sheikh, J., Lawson, H., Ansari, K., van Wely, M., van Leeuwen, E., Kostova, E., Kunst, H., Khalil, A., Tiberi, S., Brizuela, V., Broutet, N., Kara, E., Kim, C., Thorson, A., Escuriet, R., Oladapo, O., Mofenson, L., Zamora, J. and Thangaratinam, S., 2020. Clinical manifestations, risk factors, and maternal and perinatal outcomes of coronavirus disease 2019 in pregnancy: living systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, p.m3320.
CDC - Information about COVID-19 Vaccines for People who Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding
John Hopkins Medicine - The COVID-19 Vaccine and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know
UpToDate - COVID-19: Pregnancy issues and antenatal care
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