The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director on Friday recommended that pregnant people get the COVID-19 vaccine, citing a new study that suggests there is no evidence that the shot causes safety concerns for pregnant people or their babies.
Speaking at a White House COVID-19 briefing, CDC head Dr. Rochelle Walensky acknowledged that none of the participants in initial trials of the COVID-19 vaccines were pregnant, leaving doctors and families with little data on how the new shots would impact patients or their pregnancy. But emerging self-reported data from the first months of the U.S. vaccine rollout has led researchers to suggest that the new vaccines do not pose increased risk during pregnancy.
“As such, CDC recommends that pregnant people receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Walensky said on Friday. “We know that this is a deeply personal decision and I encourage people to talk to their doctors or primary care providers to determine what is best for them and their baby.”
The announcement follows the Wednesday publication of a peer-reviewed paper from The New England Journal of Medicine. In the report, researchers from the CDC used self-reported data from more than 35,691 people who were either pregnant or soon to become pregnant. After getting the shot, they reported typical vaccine side effects — pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches and muscle aches — but researchers say the data “did not show obvious safety signals.”
The results published this week were an extension of a study presented by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices last month, which also found no safety concerns during pregnancy.
Walensky’s announcement was not immediately reflected on the CDC’s website. As of Friday afternoon, the agency’s website said that “based on how these vaccines work in the body, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant,” while acknowledging that limited data existed on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine among pregnant people.
The results of the study published Wednesday add to mounting evidence that suggests the vaccine is as safe for pregnant patients as it is for non-pregnant individuals. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, a leading professional medical organization, recommends that COVID-19 vaccines not be withheld from pregnant or breastfeeding patients.
Pregnant people are particularly vulnerable to more severe illness from COVID-19. According to data published by the CDC, those who contract the virus during pregnancy are more likely to be hospitalized and face a higher risk of death.
Wednesday’s paper used data collected through three methods: V-safe, a CDC-sponsored program that collects vaccine side effect data using smartphones; the v-safe pregnancy registry; and Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a longstanding joint surveillance effort between the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration that collects adverse vaccine reports. All of the data used in the research was self-reported.
According to the study’s results, pregnant patients reported pain at the vaccine’s injection site at a slightly higher rate than their non-pregnant peers, but were less likely to say they experienced headache, muscle pain, chills, and fever. Among the 827 study participants who completed their pregnancy, the rate of miscarriage was consistent with pregnancy outcomes prior to the pandemic, according to the researchers.
However, no data yet exists on pregnancy outcomes for patients given the vaccine in their first trimester.
Researchers acknowledged that “more longitudinal follow-up, including follow-up of large numbers of women vaccinated earlier in pregnancy, is necessary to inform maternal, pregnancy, and infant outcomes.”