The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has begun, with most people over the age of 16 eligible for vaccination at some stage of the year. However, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you might be wondering whether it is safe for you to get the vaccine.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has provisionally approved 2 vaccines for use in Australia – the Pfizer and the AstraZeneca vaccines. Both have been shown to prevent you from illness — particularly severe illness — if you become infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (or 'ATAGI') has recommended that currently, use of the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults under 50 years of age who have not already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. For more information, see Can I get the AstraZeneca vaccine?
However, since most vaccine and drug trials rarely include pregnant women in their testing, there is not enough data at this stage to say whether having the vaccine during pregnancy is safe.
The Commonwealth Department of Health and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) have both recommended that at this stage, most pregnant women should not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
If you are planning a pregnancy
If you are planning a pregnancy, you can receive the vaccine. You don’t need to avoid becoming pregnant or delaying pregnancy after getting vaccinated.
There is no evidence that women who become pregnant after being vaccinated have an increased risk of developing complications that will affect their pregnancy or their baby’s health.
If you become pregnant after your first dose, you might choose to delay getting your second dose. However, you may not be fully protected against COVID-19 and protection might not last as long.
If you are pregnant
What are the risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy?
Most people who get COVID-19 will experience only mild to moderate cold and flu-like symptoms, such as:
- sore throat
- shortness of breath
- loss of smell
Pregnant women do not appear to become more unwell from the COVID-19 disease than non-pregnant women of the same age. Most pregnant women will experience the same symptoms and will make a full recovery without having to go to hospital.
However, pregnant women can be at a higher risk of complications from any respiratory illness. This is due to the changes that happen to a woman’s body during pregnancy.
Pregnant women who have other risk factors, including a pre-existing medical condition, are even more likely to need treatment in hospital.
The possibility of having a premature birth increases slightly if you become ill with COVID-19. However, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 increases the risk of miscarriage or birth defects.
What do the expert say?
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) has recommended that only pregnant women who work in high-risk environments, such as healthcare, quarantine or border protection, or have serious health conditions, should consider getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
This is because the risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 is greater than the risk of complications due to having the vaccine.
If you’re pregnant and wondering whether you should get vaccinated, talk to your doctor, midwife or obstetrician on whether they might get vaccinated. It’s important to discuss your options and understand if the benefit is greater than the risk.
You should only consider getting vaccinated during pregnancy if you:
- have a health condition that puts you at risk of developing severe COVID-19 – such as diabetes, chronic respiratory conditions, high blood pressure, heart or kidney disease and obesity
- work in an environment where you are more likely to have contact with people who have developed COVID-19, including:
- border/quarantine services
- aged or disability care
- are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person
- live in an area where there are COVID-19 cases
Women who work in a high-risk environment might consider working in an area of lower risk for a period of time or working from home.
What should I do if I don’t get vaccinated?
All pregnant women should continue to practise good hand hygiene, wear a mask, maintain physical distancing and get tested if you have any symptoms.
It’s also important to keep up to date with other vaccinations that are approved and safe for pregnant women.
You can get the influenza (flu) vaccine at any stage of your pregnancy.
Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is recommended between 20 and 32 weeks of your pregnancy. Your partner, along with close family and friends, should also get the whooping cough vaccine 2 weeks before the baby is due.
Both vaccines are free for pregnant women as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
Although the COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been tested in breastfeeding women, there are no concerns about their safety for breastfeeding mothers or their babies.
Breastfeeding women can safely receive nearly all other vaccines. The only exception is the vaccine against yellow fever, which is a live vaccine. The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines do not contain the live or whole virus that causes COVID-19.
The Department of Health advises that vaccines are quickly broken down in the body and do not transfer to breast milk. Even if there were some transfer, your baby’s gut would quickly destroy it — so it’s extremely unlikely to have any effect on your baby.
Where can I go for more information?
Discuss your options with your doctor, midwife or obstetrician. It is entirely your decision on whether you get vaccinated while you are pregnant or if you wait until after your baby is born.
- COVID-19 information for pregnancy and parenting
- Learn more here about the COVID-19 vaccination
- Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) — COVID-19 Vaccination in Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women
- Department of Health — COVID-19 vaccination decision guide for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning pregnancy