By Katherine Tam
A question that we’ve heard from our neighbors is whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will affect one’s ability to get pregnant or to conceive.
One reason for that concern is when the initial COVID-19 vaccine trials were held, none of them included pregnant women. Consequently, many women who were pregnant or who wanted to conceive weren’t sure whether they should get vaccinated. As a result, only 31% of pregnant women in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated before or during their pregnancy as of Sept. 18, according to the CDC. Therefore, it issued an alert on Sept. 29 urging more pregnant women to get vaccinated. The CDC cites data showing that about 97% of pregnant women who were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 were also unvaccinated; and that as of Sept. 27, at least 161 pregnant women have died from COVID-19.
To help answer our community’s questions, we spoke to Dr. Ayrenne Adams, a primary care physician who is also Clinical Director of Social Determinants of Health at NYC Health+Hospitals, and a Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine. Please note that Dr. Adams says she is speaking for herself, and not on behalf of her employers.
First of all, Dr. Adams says she recommends that pregnant women also receive the COVID-19 vaccine:
- “We have data that shows when individuals are pregnant and receive the COVID vaccines, they’re less likely to get infected,” Dr. Adams says.
- “What we do see is that when individuals are pregnant and they get infected with COVID, they are more likely to have to go to the critical care unit if they’re in the hospital (and) they’re more likely to have to be intubated,” Dr. Adams adds.
- “We also know that those individuals who are pregnant are more likely to die than individuals who are not pregnant,” Dr. Adams adds. Therefore, she says that women who are pregnant and get infected with COVID-19 face higher risks when compared to women who aren’t pregnant.
Second, recent data is showing that pregnant women who are vaccinated then pass on that protection to their newborn babies:
- “What we know is that when individuals are pregnant, those antibodies can often be given from the person who is pregnant to the baby and we call that passive immunity,” Dr. Adams explains, commenting on a recent NYU Langone study showing that pregnant women who received the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine then passed on that protection to their newborn babies.
- “One thing that we have already known is from other studies that have come out is that we have known that when individuals are vaccinated, COVID antibodies are found in the breast milk,” Dr. Adams adds. “So that was one thing that we knew, making us think it was likely that the babies would get the antibodies and help protect them.”
Third, women who get a COVID-19 vaccine may see their menstrual cycles change for a while, but that change is likely to be temporary and won’t affect their fertility:
- Dr. Adams acknowledges that for now, there haven’t been formal clinical trials looking at individuals to see whether they’re seeing changes in their menstruation after they get vaccinated.
- “But what we do know is that when somebody has a period or when somebody menstruates, different things can affect that. And so what we do know is that when somebody is very stressed, the different hormones in your body (…) can change temporarily how you’re bleeding or how your menstruation is,” Dr. Adams says. She adds that when someone gets vaccinated, “your body’s immune system revs up: that’s something we want it to do. But when your body’s immune system revs up, that can affect some of the other hormones that control menstruation–not the fertility–but control the menstruation.”
If you’re a man, getting the COVID-19 vaccine also won’t affect your fertility:
- “There was a smaller study that looked at the sperm of individuals that analyzed the sperm before somebody was vaccinated against COVID-19,” Dr. Adams says. According to that study, after a patient received one of the mRNA vaccines, “they did not see any difference in the volume of the sperm, did not see any difference in the motility of the sperm or other types of measures of sperm that we use when we are thinking about fertility,” Dr. Adams explains.
However, if you get infected with COVID-19, that may affect your fertility, though more studies need to be done to examine that:
- Dr. Adams says COVID-19 creates “what we kind of call an inflammatory response. And so when a body has a really big inflammatory response. It changes different levels of hormones in the body (and that) can change different kinds of markers that we have. And so that is something that, in general we look at someone’s health is not a positive sort of impact on their health.”
- That said, Dr. Adams says we’re still getting data about what specifically are the effects of COVID-19 infection on fertility.
Finally, in a followup email, Dr. Adams says that while she herself doesn’t have specific examples of personal patients who conceived after they were vaccinated, she has friends who received their vaccines and went on to become pregnant and deliver healthy babies.
For more information, Dr. Adams also recommends reading this study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, about the safety of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant women.
Did you conceive after getting your vaccine? Epicenter wants to hear from you. We are looking for video and audio testimonials. Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org