Pregnant or breastfeeding? Why you need to hold off on getting the COVID-19 vaccine

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dr. Aneesha Hossain could hardly contain her excitement. On Wednesday night, she met her baby girl.

Dr. Aneesha Hossain said she will wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine after giving birth to a baby girl. (Courtesy: Dr. Aneesha Hossain)

“She is beyond our wildest dreams,” the new mom gushed after her birth.

We interviewed Hossain just a few days earlier about concerns she has surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I think that is something that’s still really up in the air personally as a decision for me,” explained Hossain. “If you gave me the option right now saying, ‘hey, you know, you could possibly get the vaccine,’ I myself do not think that I would put myself quite in that position yet, because the data is just not mature in my opinion.”

Hossain has carefully reviewed the data available so far, especially given she treats cancer patients at Austin Cancer Center

She said while it’s very promising, she thinks it needs to be studied closely in pregnant women and those breastfeeding. 

“I just don’t know any of these answers and nor does anybody else. After you get the vaccine really, what happens? Do you transmit immunity to your baby? Is that safe? Are you safe? Do you have any long-term side effects? Does baby have to be revaccinated?” asked Hossain. 

Pregnant women not included in vaccine trials 

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), which submitted a COVID-19 vaccination distribution plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said since pregnant women have not been included in vaccine trials, it’s unlikely they’ll be recommended to get the vaccine. 

“That could always change, but there’s usually quite a bit of evaluation before recommending a new vaccine or medication for pregnant women,” explained Chris Van Deusen, Director of Media Relations with DSHS.

Some OB-GYNs said they’ve already been getting questions about the vaccine and have been telling pregnant patients that it’s best to wait. 

“Anytime you have a completely new novel technology, you have to be concerned about, you know, data right. Now, the good news is the way the technology seems… it shouldn’t cause effect,” explained Dr. John Thoppil, with River Place OB/GYN. “We want to know that we have safety data before we universally recommend it.”

Dr. Thoppil is also the President of the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and said the CDC will go through the data before giving medical providers guidance on whether pregnant women or those breastfeeding should receive the vaccine. He thinks that could take several months. 

“Until we see more information about safety in this particular vulnerable population, you know, I wouldn’t encourage my patients to do it until we see more,” said Thoppil. “I would tell my patients it’s important to encourage your family member or those around you to get vaccinated, because that’s the best way they can protect you.”

Other OB-GYNs echo safety concerns and said patients should always consult with their doctors.

“I think at this point, we probably don’t have enough information to say that it is safe in pregnant women, but there are certain cases where it may be worth taking those potential risks—patients who are at high risks—at high risk from getting very sick from COVID,” explained Dr. Madeline Kaye, an OB-GYN at Renaissance Women’s Group. “It maybe worth taking the risk of kind of the unknown to protect against—you know—a potential serious disease from COVID.” 

Could there be vaccine trials for pregnant women?

Kaye explained she’s waiting to see the entire data on each trial. So far, only preliminary data has been available. 

She said that typically during a vaccine trial, pregnant women are included after it’s been confirmed that it’s safe and effective. 

“Sometimes those are trials that are done retrospectively, meaning that eventually pregnant women will just start getting the vaccines, and then they will look back and make sure that they have been safe in that population,” explained Kaye. 

The major pharmaceutical companies behind the vaccines will need approval by regulators before distribution. 

Several already have plans to research the vaccine in pregnant women. 

“We are also working on a potential pathway to build a maternal indication into our program. Pfizer is following guidance provided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for development and licensure of vaccines to help prevent COVID-19, including the important consideration of use in pregnant women and women of childbearing potential,” said Pfizer in an email to KXAN investigators. 

Moderna has not responded to requests asking about trials including pregnant women. 

“We hope to include pregnant women in the eventual group of people for whom the vaccine is approved and are therefore carrying out necessary preclinical studies prior to inclusion of this group in clinical trials,” said an AstraZeneca spokesperson. 

Other vaccines safe for pregnant women 

The CDC said pregnancy increases risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and pregnant women are more likely to be admitted to the ICU, receive ventilation and are at increased risk for death. 

It’s one reason the agency recommends the flu and whopping cough (Tdap) vaccines for pregnant women. 

The flu shot is recommended anytime during flu season and can protect both the mom and baby for several months after birth from flu complications, said the CDC online. 

The agency explained a whooping cough shot is given during the 27th through 36th week of pregnancy. 

Hossain is hoping to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine in the next six months especially when it comes to possible side effects. 

“I’m just not ready to really take that leap of faith, but I think that the vaccine and the trial and everything that we’re hearing about it – it’s very promising and exciting,” said Hossain. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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