COVID-19 Vaccines and Pregnancy
Published May 2021
Facts You Need to Know
Eve C. Feinberg, MD, is a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Northwestern Medicine, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine COVID-19 Task Force.
This task force is comprised of experts in infertility, epidemiology, infectious disease and mental health, along with patient representatives. This group was charged with learning as much as possible about COVID-19 in order to create guidance documents for the field of reproductive medicine.
Using the knowledge and insights from this task force and the academic medical center of Northwestern Medicine, Dr. Feinberg sets the record straight about COVID-19 vaccines, infertility and pregnancy.
COVID-19 Vaccines Have Not Been Shown to Cause Infertility
"There are no data to even suggest that COVID-19 vaccines will cause infertility," says Dr. Feinberg.
The origin of this myth is a letter sent to the European Medicines Agency (the equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]) by two European scientists who falsely claimed that the "vaccine contains a spike protein called syncytin-1 [that is] vital for the human placenta in women."
"Syncytin-1 is indeed vital for the human placenta. Destruction of this protein would disrupt its formation, leading to infertility or miscarriage," says Dr. Feinberg. "But the claim that COVID-19 vaccines either contain syncyntin-1 or tell your body how to create the antibodies to fight against syncytin-1 is false."
Pregnant Women Are at Higher Risk for Serious COVID-19 Illness
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that pregnant people are at higher risk for developing severe COVID-19 and have worse outcomes than people who are not pregnant. A large, multinational study of pregnant people with COVID-19 also showed that infection earlier in pregnancy increased the risk for complications, including the need for a life-support machine and the death of the fetus.
"These findings highlight the importance of vaccination in people who are desiring or planning pregnancy, as well as those who are pregnant, to prevent severe COVID-19," says Dr. Feinberg. "The known risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy outweigh the theoretical risk of harm from COVID-19 vaccination."
To date, COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe. Serious adverse events have been uncommon, and occurred at similar rates in vaccine and placebo groups in clinical trials conducted by the FDA.
The V-safe smartphone application and web-based tool developed by the CDC collects voluntary data from individuals who have received the vaccine. It includes a pregnancy registry that gathers data on vaccination during pregnancy, or the period before or after it. Data from the V-safe pregnancy registry, with nearly 2,000 participants, showed that rates of miscarriage, stillbirth, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or gestational hypertension, eclampsia, and intrauterine growth restriction were lower among vaccinated participants reporting through the V-safe pregnancy registry compared to national rates.
Clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines that include pregnant people are currently underway, and preliminary data shows both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been safely administered in more than 30,000 study participants who are pregnant.
Three of the leading professional organizations focused on pregnancy and fertility — the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine — all recommend COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant people as well as those considering pregnancy.
"As a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, I urge my patients to get vaccinated against COVID-19. I discuss what is known, what remains unknown, and address their fears and uncertainties," says Dr. Feinberg. "I feel confident that the data will continue to emerge showing the benefits of vaccination in eradicating severe disease."