Who am I?
I am a physician, specifically a clinical immunologist. This means I take care of patients with immune disorders and immune deficiencies and am a pediatrician by training. But most importantly, I am a Kamm McKenzie patient just like you. I just endured a long pandemic pregnancy just like you. I had important decisions to make during my pregnancy regarding vaccination, just like you. Most importantly, I am now a mother of a healthy little boy (who Dr. Kalinowski successfully delivered on 9/4). I strongly believe he has COVID antibodies after I received my vaccination during pregnancy. I am here to encourage you that vaccination in pregnancy is not only safe but it is beneficial for you and your baby. I continue to worry about YOU, the 2/3 of you that remain unvaccinated during your pregnancy and want to help you in any way possible regarding the importance of COVID vaccination during pregnancy.
Why is COVID so worrisome in pregnancy?
Pregnant women are by nature “immune suppressed.” This is because your body needs to dampen down its immune response so that it does not attack your baby or view your baby as foreign. This puts you at higher risk of severe COVID including hospitalization, pre-term birth, and other complications if you were to acquire COVID while pregnant, particularly in the 2nd and 3rd trimester. Also during pregnancy, your pregnant belly pushes up on your lungs and makes it more difficult to breath as your pregnancy progresses. Since COVID mainly affects the lungs, this can be a big problem later in pregnancy which is why so many women struggle when they acquire the virus and are at higher risk of poor outcomes than non-pregnant individuals.
What decision did I make regarding the COVID vaccine during my pregnancy?
I remember last Christmas with my family. Instead of focusing on family time and relaxation, I remember anxiously awaiting the vaccine data. However, two days before my vaccination appointment as a frontline healthcare worker, I found out I was pregnant with our first child. I immediately went into “do no harm” mode and quickly canceled my appointment. However, after finishing a difficult first trimester, I continued to cautiously review the science and became convinced regarding the safety of the data and importantly, the thought of actually benefiting my unborn son through vaccination during pregnancy became a reality. When a pregnant woman gets vaccinated, she passes her antibodies to her unborn baby and these antibodies ultimately serve to protect the child when they are born up until about 6 months when they start receiving their own vaccinations at the pediatrician.
I ultimately decided to get vaccinated at 25 and 28 weeks of my pregnancy with the Pfizer vaccine. I had no side effects and an ultrasound one week after vaccination showed a healthy baby boy with normal anatomy. During the second trimester of pregnancy, the placenta starts developing what we call “receptors” that help pass antibodies from the mother to baby and I felt this was the right timing to maximize transfer of immunity to my baby boy. I think of these receptors as a gate that suddenly open during this time of pregnancy. Several recent studies have shown vaccination after 20 weeks provides the most optimal antibody protection to the baby at birth.
What scientific evidence convinced me to get the vaccine?
-Thousands of pregnant people have received the vaccine and the CDC has tracked this data. Many of these individuals were pregnant healthcare workers early in the pandemic. The evidence continues to grow and become more and more convincing by the day. There has been no proven increased risk of birth defects, miscarriage or stillbirth with the mRNA vaccines (Moderna or Pfizer) and provides the ultimate benefit of protecting you and your child from severe COVID.
-Researchers have examined the placenta of women vaccinated during pregnancy. There have been no abnormalities of the placenta after vaccination. Disturbingly, COVID infection during pregnancy causes abnormalities to the placenta that can cause poor outcomes.
-Lastly, and possibly most importantly to the “pediatrician in me”, vaccination of pregnant women builds antibodies that likely protect your unborn baby for a significant period of time after they are born. This has been shown in multiple recent studies involving COVID-19 antibodies found in the umbilical cord blood at birth of women vaccinated during their pregnancies. As discussed earlier, when antibodies rise in the mother’s blood, they are passed to the baby during the 2nd and 3rd trimester, likely protecting the baby for the first 6 months of life, a very vulnerable time for an infant as the pandemic continues.
Thank you for reading my guest blog post and I hope you found this information helpful!
Haley Hostetler, MD