"Please, get the vaccine." What you should know about COVID-19 and pregnancy

September 16, 2021 / In Children, Our People, Patient Stories, Women’s Health / By UK HealthCare

Pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk for severe illness, increased risk for premature birth, and might be at increased risk for other poor outcomes. The COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for people who are pregnant and for people who are breastfeeding. 

The COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective at preventing serious infection and hospitalization, and there is an added benefit for people who are breastfeeding. Reports have shown that breast milk contains antibodies from the mother’s immune response, and breastfeeding can provide some protection from COVID-19 to breastfed babies.

We recently sat down with Dr. Wendy Hansen, Dr. Katie Vignes and Emily Brenzel, an expecting mother, to discuss COVID-19 complications that can occur during pregnancy, the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and why pregnant women should absolutely receive the COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves, their unborn children and those around them. 

Dr. Wendy Hansen is chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UK HealthCare, specializing in maternal-fetal medicine. Dr. Katie Vignes, a fellow in maternal-fetal medicine specializing in high-risk pregnancy care, received the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant. Emily Brenzel recently delivered her baby at the UK Birthing Center and received the COVID-19 vaccine during her fourth week of pregnancy. 

Watch the full video at the bottom of the page.

Why should people who are pregnant receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Hansen: “In this past year, the CDC has placed pregnancy on its high-risk list. We've all known for a long time that older adults were at high risk. But now, imagine that we've learned enough over this past year that pregnancy is now on that list. What that means is that if you are pregnant, you are three times more likely than if you're not pregnant to go to the ICU because of very severe COVID – or 2.4 times as likely to go on ECMO in an ICU if you are pregnant. 

When and why did you decide to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Brenzel: “I had the opportunity to mitigate one of those risks by getting the vaccine really early. I was able to get my first dose actually two days after I got my positive test.

I got it during my fourth week of pregnancy. I actually think the first person to find out that I was pregnant was the person who was checking [me] in at the vaccine clinic.” 

Vignes: “I was vaccinated in pregnancy when I was 26 weeks with my second child who is now six months old and healthy. 

At the time, I was taking care of patients in the hospital clinically and I was seeing a lot of the struggles that they were having with facing respiratory distress or having complications like pre-eclampsia and also having to deliver their babies early due to moms being unstable. That was really hard, seeing their babies go to the NICU.”

What helped you make the decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Brenzel: “For me, the risk was higher if I got COVID. I wanted to be able to provide for my children in the future. I wanted to be able to be here for them. In addition to that, [by getting the vaccine], I have the opportunity to potentially pass antibodies to the baby. If I was able to protect the baby from those external things, I was absolutely going to take that risk.” 

Vignes: “We had some preliminary data on vaccination in pregnant women based on women that had become pregnant during the clinical trials and we didn't have any suspicion for adverse issues. We also had no reason to suspect issues with this type of technology. I felt comfortable making that decision. 

Even with all that information, even all the science, that wasn't what made my decision. It was a friend of mine who is a labor and delivery nurse who was very sick with COVID infection. She was also around the same part of her pregnancy as I was at the time. And we both have toddlers at home. 

I remember caring for her as part of her care team and seeing her through FaceTime while she was in the ICU and seeing her struggle to breathe and knowing that she also had a small child at home, as did I. Whenever I saw her struggling, I knew that I had to protect myself. I had to eliminate any chance that I would not be available for my children.” 

What would you say to people to convince them to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Brenzel: “My recommendation is always to get the vaccine, if you are able, to protect yourself, protect those around you and especially protect your unborn child. I think that you should take every opportunity to go for that.” 

Vignes: “Vaccination and pregnancy is supported by multiple professional societies: the CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine. It’s also supported by the societies that deal with infertility and in vitro fertilization.” 

Hansen: “So, we are out there trying to give the facts that the vaccine is safe – and if you get COVID, you are far more likely to become very ill from COVID. So please, get the vaccine. We're happy to talk about it at any time.”

If you are pregnant and need more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, speak with your healthcare provider or visit ukhealthcare.uky.edu/covid-19/vaccine


Watch our full interview with Dr. Hansen, Dr. Vignes and Brenzel.