COVID-19 Vaccine

(Date: March 2021. Version: 1.3)

This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by Public Health England on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.

What are these vaccines?

Vaccines work by training your immune system to fight off infections. A number of COVID-19 vaccines are currently being developed, and several of these have been approved for use in the United Kingdom. It is hoped that these vaccines will help to protect those who are at highest risk, and decrease the spread of the virus in the community.

Importantly, none of the vaccines approved for use in the UK contain live versions of the coronavirus, and cannot cause you to get COVID-19.

What are the benefits of having the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy?

Vaccination reduces the chance of becoming unwell from COVID-19. It is hoped that these vaccines will help to protect those who are at highest risk (including pregnant frontline health and social care workers, and those with underlying medical conditions which put them at high risk of experiencing severe illness with COVID-19 – list of conditions available here), and decrease the spread of the virus in the community.

Are there any risks with having the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy?

There is currently very limited information available about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy. However, before vaccines are made available to the public, they are tested in pregnant animals. All of the COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for use in the UK have been given to pregnant rats to test their effects in pregnancy. In these tests, the vaccines were given at larger amounts than would be given to humans (due to the size difference between rats and humans). There were no vaccine-related effects on female fertility, pregnancy, or the rat pup’s development (either in the womb or after birth). Although these data cannot be used to prove safety in human pregnancy, they are considered reassuring.

Although COVID-19 vaccines are new, a lot is known about the safety of similar vaccines in pregnancy, with several used routinely in pregnant women (e.g. influenza or flu and pertussis or whooping cough vaccines). Also, there is currently no known risk with using non-live, weakened or non-replicating vaccines in pregnancy, and all of the COVID-19 vaccines planned for use in the UK are non-live, weakened or non-replicating.

How can I help?

As the safety of COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy is currently unproven, it is important that we collect as much information as quickly as possible. If you are living in the UK and you were pregnant when you were given the vaccine, you can report your pregnancy to us via the telephone (0344 892 0909, available 9am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday). If you are a healthcare professional and you have a patient that was given the vaccine in pregnancy, you can also report this to us via the telephone line.

What is the latest guidance about COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy?

All the latest advice about COVID-19 in pregnancy is available from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists here.

The Royal College of Midwives have produced an information leaflet about COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy which is available here.

Public Health England have published advice which is available here.

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General information 

Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks.  They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.

Medicines use in pregnancy

Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby.  There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development.  How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.   

Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the individual care and advice of your health care provider. New information is continually becoming available. Whilst every effort will be made to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date at the time of publication, we cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes following decisions made on the basis of this information. We strongly advise that printouts should NOT be kept for any length of time, or for “future reference” as they can rapidly become out of date.

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