Pregnancy, fertility and COVID-19 vaccines: What do I need to know?

By Dr. Serena H. Chen, Director for the Division of Reproductive Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science at Saint Barnabas Medical Center

Family planning and preparing for a new baby have always been deeply emotional experiences. But for women marking these milestones during the pandemic, the journey has been full of tremendous stress and anxiety. Ever since the first COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, myths and misinformation have been circulating online about the vaccine’s safety for pregnant women, nursing moms and women of childbearing age.

I’ve heard from many patients and expectant parents who are worried that the COVID-19 vaccine will impact their fertility or harm their unborn child. The bottom line is there is no evidence of these claims.

Here are some of the questions I hear most often:

What do we know about the vaccine?

All approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective. Those who are vaccinated are protected from the virus’ most harmful effects, including severe illness and hospitalization. We know that the science behind the vaccine is sound, as it was studied extensively in large trials among diverse populations.

Is the vaccine safe for me and my baby?

We know the vaccine is safe, and there is no evidence suggesting that it could harm pregnant women or their unborn children. Two of the most well-respected medical societies in our country, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, have both recommended that pregnant women, women considering pregnancy, lactating moms, and women with infertility problems all receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Were pregnant women included in initial vaccine trials?

No. Pregnant women were not included in the vaccine trials, as is often the case in these types of trials. However, there is no evidence indicating that COVID-19 vaccines are likely to have adverse effects on expectant moms or their unborn children. As of early April, over 30,000 pregnant women in the United States have received the vaccine, with no red flags. Rates of miscarriage and pregnancy complications are the same in people who are vaccinated versus those who are unvaccinated, which is encouraging data.

Will the vaccine affect my fertility?

No. There is no evidence that the vaccine will impact either male or female fertility.

Why should I get vaccinated?

Pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to become seriously ill than their non-pregnant counterparts and are classified as a high-risk group by the CDC. There’s also a chance that pregnant woman with COVID-19 will have a heightened risk of adverse outcomes in pregnancy. Given those factors, it’s important that we use all the tools at our disposal to keep both you and your baby safe. When you consider the significant risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy, it’s clear that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.

What are the side effects?

COVID-19 vaccines have common side effects, which are considered normal and are nothing to worry about. You may experience redness or tenderness at the injection site, fever, fatigue or muscle aches. These symptoms usually only last about 1-3 days.

There is no sign that the side effects for pregnant women are any different than the general population. However, your doctor may advise you to take acetaminophen if you develop a fever after vaccination, as that will help keep you and your child in best health.

What should I do next?

Talk with your doctor about getting the vaccine and the specifics of your case, including your personal risk of COVID-19 exposure and any concerns you may have.

My team and I have walked alongside our patients through all stages of their pregnancy and postpartum journey, and we will continue to do so. Your health, and the health of your child, is of the utmost importance to us.