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 (ATAGI) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) have recommended that pregnant women can get the Pfizer (Cominarty) vaccine at any stage of their pregnancy.
Why has the recommendation for pregnant women changed?
Most vaccine and drug trials rarely include pregnant women in their testing, so there is usually not enough data when a vaccine is first rolled out to say whether it is safe to have during pregnancy.
However, based on known data from other similar vaccines, ATAGI and RANZCOG have updated their advice for Australian women that it is unlikely COVID-19 vaccines pose a risk to a pregnant woman or her baby.
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 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 released a joint statement with ATAGI recommending that pregnant women are routinely offered the Pfizer vaccine at any stage during their pregnancy.
RANZCOG recommends that all pregnant women who work in high-risk environments where you are more likely to have contact with people who have developed COVID-19, such as healthcare, quarantine or border protection, should consider getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Women who work in a high-risk environment might consider working in an area of lower risk for a period of time, working from home or taking leave.
You should also 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
- are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person
- live in an area where there are COVID-19 cases
Furthermore, recent evidence has found the presence of antibodies in cord blood, which suggests that pregnant women who have had the vaccine may pass on some level of protection to their baby.
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.
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.
There is also evidence to suggest that breastfeeding women who have had the vaccine may pass on antibodies through breastmilk which may offer some protection to 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