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Building immunity: Why I got the COVID-19 vaccine during my pregnancy
Photo courtesy of Painted Peacock Photography
In early July, my husband and I welcomed our second child to the world after a happy and healthy delivery at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women®. From the moment we laid eyes on Hope, we fell in love with her. Our 2-year-old son Lucas was as excited as we were to meet the newest addition to our family and I can’t wait for our extended family to meet our daughter.
It took almost two years for us to conceive our second child. After undergoing a round of in vitro fertilization (IVF), I found out I was pregnant last November. It happened during the height of the pandemic when COVID-19 vaccines were still being tested for emergency use. As COVID-19 positive cases and hospitalizations increased, I wanted to do whatever I could to protect myself and my family.
When Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was approved for emergency use last December – followed by the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines shortly thereafter – I was so glad we had finally reached this long-awaited milestone in the fight against this virus. But, like many expectant mothers, I had concerns and questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Since pregnant women had been excluded from the original vaccine trials, it hadn’t been tested thoroughly in pregnant women. How would I know if this new vaccine would be safe for my baby?
To be completely honest, I agonized over the decision about what to do – should I or should I not get the COVID-19 vaccine? And if so, when? I’m not an infectious disease physician and I am not an obstetrician – I’m a maternal fetal anesthesiologist. I’m trained to think about and prevent risks that are extremely unlikely to happen – but if they do, they can be devastatingly severe. I know that no anesthetic is ever risk-free, so I conduct risk assessments on patients preparing for surgery to ensure their anesthesia care is safe and effective. I use that information to design anesthetics to optimize the outcome for my pregnant patients and their babies. So, I applied the same analytical approach that I use as a maternal-fetal anesthesiologist to help guide my decision. As much as I wished for a situation with zero risks, I knew that wasn’t one of my choices.
Research shows pregnant women are at a higher risk for getting severe COVID-19 than women who are not pregnant. Since pregnancy is a big stressor on the body, expectant mothers with COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized, end up in the intensive care unit, or have a pre-term birth. After reading every publication I could find about COVID-19 and pregnancy, and discussing the COVID-19 vaccine with my colleagues including maternal-fetal medicine specialists and infectious disease physicians involved in the vaccine trials at Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine, I felt reassured by everything I learned. I decided to take a proactive stance in protecting my pregnancy and my family as much as I could. In February, I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine when I was 17-weeks pregnant, followed by the second dose a few weeks later.
According to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 11 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. With all the confusing information out there, many women are understandably still hesitant about getting the vaccine. I decided to share my story to share a few things that may help women who are struggling with such a challenging decision. Because more research continues to be conducted on COVID-19 vaccines, we have more reassuring data today than we did eight months ago. More pregnant women are being immunized, and the current evidence shows the COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women. A healthier mom means a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby. Further, emerging evidence has demonstrated that pregnant women who get the vaccine pass immunity across the placenta to their babies even before they are born. Unlike a lot of other immunizations for infants and children, a newborn baby will likely not be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine for quite some time. Getting the vaccine allows you to not miss a window of opportunity to pass antibodies on to your baby.
As confident as I am in my decision and as thankful as I am to have had this option to protect my baby and my family, it wasn’t an easy one. It’s hard to make these choices when the stakes are so high and every option carries risk. There will always be that uncertainty in any decision you make, which is one of the hardest things about being a mom. Whether you’re deciding on a parenting style, how to feed your baby, or whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine, every decision carries a ton of responsibility because you want to do the best thing for your baby and your family.
If you are still struggling with the weight of this decision, I understand what you’re going through. When you care so much about doing “the right thing,” it can be so hard to make any choice. I hope my story gives other moms more confidence in the decision to get the vaccine. If you still have lingering questions about the vaccine, my advice is to talk openly about your concerns with your doctor. Then let’s all do our part to support each other in the decisions we make for our families. The more support we can give each other, building each other up with confidence rather than judgment, the better.
As I write this, I’m sitting next to my sweet snoozing girl, who still looks so tiny and vulnerable. It feels really good to know that because of the choice I made, she was born with protection from COVID-19. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to give that to her.
Click here for more information, including a Q&A, about COVID-19 vaccinations and pregnancy.