Almost a year exactly into the pandemic, not a day goes by that we’re not learning something new about the COVID-19 vaccines and their effectiveness. At Forward, we’re dedicated to providing as many answers to questions about the vaccines as we can — fast — so that our members are informed if and when it’s their turn for their shot. One question we get a lot is, “Should I get the vaccine if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?” 

The short answer is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG), and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), it is recommended that the three COVID-19 vaccines be offered to pregnant individuals who are eligible to receive the vaccine

But let’s dive deeper into that —why might they recommend it and what do we know so far?

How Safe Is Each Vaccine for Pregnant Women?

It’s true that there is limited data available on the safety of the three COVID-19 vaccines for individuals who are pregnant, and that’s because the clinical trials conducted did not include pregnant people. That said, clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant individuals are currently underway, and so far, what we’ve learned about the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines is reassuring. Here are some key takeaways.

mRNA Vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna)

  • mRNA vaccines do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19 so they cannot give someone COVID-19.
  • mRNA vaccines have been shown to not interact with a person’s DNA or cause genetic changes.
  • In animal tests, the mRNA vaccines did not affect fertility or cause any problems with pregnancy.
  • mRNA particles used in the vaccine are expelled by our bodies within hours or days of vaccination, making it unlikely that they reach or cross the placenta.

Adenovirus Vaccines (Johnson & Johnson, AstraZenica)

  • The modified adenovirus used in the vaccine cannot replicate or cause COVID-19 in a vaccinated individual, and is cleared from the injection site very quickly — making it unlikely to reach or cross the placenta.
  • Similar to mRNA vaccines, animal testing did not affect fertility or cause problems with pregnancy.
  • Adenovirus vector vaccines like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been studied in humans for HIV, Ebola and Zika virus, with no reported harmful pregnancy outcomes.

All Vaccines

  • Vaccines are generally safe for use in pregnancy and oftentimes are recommended. Immunity gained by a pregnant individual from vaccination can cross the placenta, and has the potential to keep the baby safe after birth.

Can Breastfeeding Women Get the Vaccine?

Currently, we do not have any data, yet, on the safety of these COVID-19 vaccines among lactating individuals. That said, the three COVID-19 vaccines currently in market are non-replicating vaccines, which means they are able to create an immune response but do not reproduce inside of host cells. That’s good news for parents who are breastfeeding their infants, because non-replicating vaccines haven’t proven to be any risk to babies — which gives cause to believe that the COVID-19 vaccines shouldn’t pose a risk, either.

The Takeaway

Despite what clearly are positive signs pointing towards an all-clear for pregnant and breastfeeding individuals, it is still vitally important that you consult with your physician before getting your shots.

As a Forward member, you have 24/7 access to your care team, who can answer your questions about COVID-19 and your personal health. Join the Forward COVID-19 Care Program, which provides vaccinations, up-to-date guidance from the CDC, risk and symptom assessments, and COVID prevention strategies to help you and your family stay safe and healthy during the pandemic.

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