Authors: Negin Nia and Arrthy Thayaparan (Blog Coordinators) | Interviewing: Dr. Cindy Barha, PhD, Department of Physical Therapy; Dr. Chelsea Elwood, PhD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Published: October 9th, 2021
To go along with our latest blog looking at research and effects of the COVID-19 vaccine on pregnant women, the Women’s Health Blog spoke to Dr. Cindy Barha to hear her personal experience with receiving the vaccine during pregnancy.
While the information mentioned in this Q&A is the personal anecdote of Dr. Barha, everything mentioned has been verified and additional reading has been listed along with this blog.
When did you decide to get your vaccine?
I got pregnant in September of last year, a few months after COVID had hit, and the first wave was just ending. I had already decided that I was going to get it as soon as I was eligible to get the vaccine.
Why did you get vaccinated while pregnant? What was your thought process going into that?
I kept a close eye on data coming out of the United States and the UK. They were the only countries at the time that I could find that were actually keeping track of COVID infections in pregnant women. Everything I'd seen was pointing towards COVID symptoms being much more serious in pregnant women, compared to non-pregnant women of the same age.
So if you were pregnant and got COVID, you'd be at higher risk for being hospitalized and being put on a ventilator, compared to a woman that was not pregnant and the same age as you. So that just kept coming up every time I looked to see if any new data had been published.
As soon as I became eligible, and I had the opportunity in my second trimester, I jumped on it. I had no reservations about getting the vaccine. Nothing had come out in any of the studies I had seen to suggest that the vaccine was unsafe during pregnancy. I was always going to get the vaccine and I was actually really happy to receive it during my second trimester, because I was really hopeful that Baby would receive some protection. And this is exactly what is being seen in more recent studies, COVID antibodies are found in umbilical cord blood!
Other than your research, who did you go to for advice on informing your decision?
I had two excellent OBs (obstetricians) at BC Women’s hospital, Dr. Chelsea Elwood is one of them and she is an infectious disease expert. I had a couple of conversations with her, I was curious what experts thought [about getting the vaccine, while pregnant].
Around the same time, I had a family member and a friend who were also pregnant, and were both skeptical about getting the vaccine. So, I shared my experiences and the knowledge that I’ve been able to gather from the data with them. But I also asked Dr. Elwood if she had anything to share that I could pass on to them and she pretty much echoed everything I'd seen in studies looking at vaccine safety and efficacy.
Did you have any side effects after the vaccine?
I had very few side effects. In fact, I think I only had a sore arm for maybe 12 hours, and I think that was because I slept on that side. But I didn’t get a fever, or any aches or pains. It was basically like getting the flu shot at that point for me, and I don't normally get any side effects from that either.
I mentioned this to Dr. Elwood and she told me about some data suggesting that women that are pregnant are suffering from less side effects from the COVID vaccine. My personal experience echoed what she was seeing in the data, that side effects seemed to be blunted in women that were getting their shots during pregnancy. I had the same experience from my second shot when I was breastfeeding. I had almost no side effects whatsoever.
How did you feel about any effects to your baby?
When I got my first shot during my second trimester, researchers had just started to see that the antibodies that were being produced from mRNA vaccines were crossing the placenta.
So Baby got some protection from my first shot. I got my second shot when i was about 3 months postpartum so Baby got antibodies from my second shot, as well through breastmilk.
In a way this was a good sort of vaccine schedule for me, because the baby got antibodies through the placenta and through breastmilk.
On a more cheerful note, how’s your baby now?
He's great. He's protected from COVID as far as I know. He's four months old now and just living his life.
Is there anything you would like to share to people who are or looking to get pregnant and trying to decide whether they should get the vaccine?
I think what I would say is, don't think only about yourself, but also think about your baby. The vaccine has been given to over 6 billion people, and a portion of those people were pregnant. There's been no negative outcomes in terms of pregnancy or fertility in any of these cases.
So think about yourself, think about your baby. The vaccine is our best chance of getting through this pandemic. Without it, pregnant people are at a higher risk for being hospitalized, and that will potentially be harmful for your baby.
The Women’s Health blog also reached out to Dr. Chelsea Elwood, a clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, to hear her recommendations.
What is the recommendation right now?
So we recommend, in line with the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, and a large number of other international bodies, that persons who are pregnant, persons who are breastfeeding, and anyone planning a pregnancy get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Is there a certain time period when women should receive the vaccine?
As soon as it's available. So we recommend that at any time in pregnancy, first trimester, second trimester, third trimester, they should get the vaccine, including postpartum.
When it comes to the different vaccines, is one better than the others? Is mixing vaccines an issue?
We recommend any of the COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy. There is currently more published data, generally on Pfizer and Moderna, although we are expecting much more data from the United Kingdom on AstraZeneca. There's no safety signals related to pregnancy with any of those vaccines. So we actually recommend any of them.
The data around vaccine mixing is continuing to be studied and emerging. To be honest, at this point in time, we recommend any of them as long as patients are fully vaccinated and can't make a preferential recommendation of vaccine mixing versus not in pregnancy.
With the talk about boosters, do you think pregnant women should be getting a booster shot?
At this point in time, there's no data to suggest that pregnant women respond any differently than their non-pregnant counterparts. So a woman who is pregnant and has, for example, an autoimmune disorder and would normally qualify for a booster, then they should get their booster. Pregnancy, in and of itself, is not a reason at this point in time to get a booster.
What do you have to say to folks worried about their babies and the vaccine?
Maternal vaccination for infant protection is a very well established modality to get babies protected from infectious diseases. We have traditionally seen that in the influenza vaccine, where moms are protected, babies are provided antibodies through placental transfer, as well as through breast milk afterwards.
We actually use maternal immunization for infant protection as a very good strategy to protect babies from whooping cough in the first couple of months after they're born. And we recommend routinely the whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy for that reason. The COVID-19 vaccine is recommended primarily for maternal benefit. Meaning the outcomes that are being prevented by our mums getting COVID-19 vaccine, are ending up in the ICU hospitalized or having preterm birth by being vaccinated.
Being vaccinated in pregnancy, and the degree of which that is going to protect the baby from COVID-19 has yet to be seen, because we simply don't have enough data at that point in time. But we would expect it to be protective in the same way that any other vaccine in pregnancy does, in that it would confer some protection for babies after they are delivered and through breast milk.
What would you like to say to the folks deciding whether they should get vaccinated?
I’d encourage them to reach out to their maternity care provider and have that conversation. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and most of the provinces have great resources available to help patients and practitioners have the conversation.
But again, we're very clear about the recommendation because of the potential harm of COVID-19, the clear harm of COVID-19 if you get it in pregnancy, and the safety data we have now around vaccination in pregnancy.
I would also discourage people around the social media that's going around about the risk of infertility. There's no data that the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility. In fact, the studies actually oppose this. There's no theoretical reason why the COVID-19 vaccines would cause infertility. And so we do recommend that people who are trying to get pregnant get fully vaccinated before they get pregnant, so that they're protected during their pregnancy.
So we recommend again that persons who are pregnant, persons who are breastfeeding, and anyone planning a pregnancy get the COVID-19 vaccine.